Re-learning to appreciate the nuances of language, English and beyond

When I edit, I communicate my irritation verbally, often in a rapid-fire rant: “Ugh, what, no, a semicolon is not used to link an independent clause and dependent clause! Why? Ugh, people!” I’m compelled to voice it for two reasons — one: the improper use of semicolons angers me, and two, I admit I feel the need to publicly assert my control over language.

In a world defined by uncertainty, I crave control, and for a long time, writing provided it. I could manipulate my language; therefore, I owned it. After one week into my final semester at Drake University, though, I’ve realized control over language is an illusion.

I’ve re-adopted the art of diagramming sentences. Yeah, remember that convoluted verb/noun web you hated in fifth grade? By reacquainting myself with terminology like “predicate” and “compound-complex,” I’ve realized I largely take linguistic structure and established conventions for granted.

I’ve been here forming sentences on the page but paying no attention to the underlying framework of my communication. The beauty of language, I naively thought, dwelled in word choice, content and concept.

Now back in the realm of diagrams and word webs, though, I’m consciously evaluating and appreciating the framework of what I do every day: communicate. Even when I include a “Look at me!” word, it lacks impact and meaning without structure. Humbly and quietly, structure often vanishes, blinded by the glow of a flashy word or literary device.

My perceived ‘control’ over language recently faced another wake-up call — the Arabic alphabet. What began with, “Why not learn Arabic? It could be kind of fun, right?” challenged my attitude toward the English language. Many Arabic sounds blend in my untrained ear, their variance unintelligible.

The subtle variations in Arabic revealed yet another thing I take for granted: the nuanced nature of language. Yeah, yeah, I know “said” and “claimed,” both denote the act of speaking but have dramatically different connotations. Yet, I rarely engage those nuances and instead focus on the pursuit of some enlightening concept or idea.

Each sound, noun, verb and punctuation mark determines and guides the content of writing in a way I too often take for granted, assuming I am somehow above such details.

Those details have humbly and quietly tolerated my ‘too-cool-for-you’ attitude for years. I hope it isn’t too late to repair the bond and maybe, improve my writing en route.

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