Language Clouds: He Plays

This is that announced third post in a series of posts on clouds.  If we use numbers, and want to impress others with how accurate we are are with sequencing and counting, then I suppose I should call it the fourth post.  It’s still, perhaps, the “announced third post,” but the actual third post was my complaint that the nice, original wordpress theme of this blog just disappeared with no explanation whatsoever like a cloud in the darkness.

The announced title to the announced third post was not “Language Clouds:  He Plays.”  Rather it is “Always Playing with Language Only Clouds the Issue: When Rich Rhodes Plays.

And “Always Playing with Language Only Clouds the Issueis not exactly what Rich Rhodes did with language.  What he wrote to me exactly is this:

Assuming that they are always playing with language only clouds the issue when they actually are.

Okay, you’ve caught me again. You’re catching on. This can’t really be exactly what Rich said (or wrote) because he didn’t use black color font on white but brown on tan, colors already chosen for him at his blog by his group of co-bloggers. And he didn’t use italics but whatevertheoppositeofitalicsis. And, of course, Rich didn’t quote himself directly as I have done by using the wordpress html blockquote feature to set his words off from mine a bit.

Those are his words, however, aren’t they? He plays when he says “they are always playing with language.” Oh, I see. He’s saying what he says that I said. Okay. He’s not saying I said something, he’s assuming I’ve assumed something. So he says, or I say, that he assumes that my assumption is this: “Assuming that they are always playing with language.” Those are his words, are they? But who are “they” who he assumes that I assume “are always playing with language” if that’s what he said? That is what he says, right? Right.

He’s telling me what “the writers of the NT” said. He’s telling us just like they told us. We get what Rich wrote. We get what they wrote. Fine, I’m translating or transposing what he wrote. But what they wrote has also been transposed, maybe by me some too. It’s all the same is his point. They aren’t “always playing with language” – that’s his assumption opposing his about mine, he says. He isn’t “always playing with language” either. Mostly, he says to me, he is doing with language what they are doing with language. It’s all the same is his point. It’s not the same (what they and he do as the same) as what I’m always doing, or at least what I say they and he are always doing, or at least what he assumes and says I am assuming. Yesterday, I think it was, he said “Potential ambiguities are actually suppressed in context, so the categorization effect is heightened.” So I must say that we would all do well to go back to his original context for his original statement to see all that suppression actually. Sorry, that requires something of you and me and of him too when he reads his words in this context of mine. What is suppressed actually here?

Well. Let’s see. He said something like this:

Assuming that they are always playing with language only clouds the issue when they actually are.

“Yes,” you say, and add, “You’ve already shown us that.”
“Why do you see it again,” I ask, “when you see it a second time?”
And I add, “Is it really the same? Has nothing changed since you read Rich’s sentence the first time? Have my words inbetween or intervening not made any difference to the meanings at all? If so, then is it really I who have caused you to see something different — or not different, and, therefore, as exactly the same — or is it you?”
“Don’t you have power over and power in language,” I ask.

What interested me when Rich said what he said, was the word clouds. His word. He caught on that I’d caught him using language playfully, metaphorically if you will. He went on with a full paragraph to explain what he meant but what I only assumed incorrectly so to speak:

As for the question of what makes for play with language, we’ll need a longer conversation. One of the things that people know about their native language is just how novel usages are. On the other hand, they are frequently blissfully unaware of metaphor if it isn’t pushing the boundaries. So when I say X clouds one’s view of Y. [sic] Most people don’t think of it as playful or creative at all. It’s just the way English is spoken.

I want you to notice how he clouds the active subject of his last sentence here by using what our English teachers teach us is the passive voice. By whom, we are taught to ask upon reading such a twisted sentence, such a turned phrase, such a tinny or tiny voice. The active subject of Rich’s passive verb is us English speakers. He’s fronting, instead, some impersonal dummy subject instead, some “It” instead of us people speaking. “It is,” he says. He is, I say, a person himself. He’s chosen to say “It’s.” He is like that, I must add; that’s just the way he is. He has power in his language. He’s one who chooses despite however “It is just the way.”

Notice how his “X clouds one’s view of Y” is the same and is not the same as his “always playing with language only clouds the issue.” How do you see that? By “that” I mean, how do you see the sameness and the difference?

Now, we’re coming to clouds.

When I announced this series, I told you the titles of the first three posts after that announcement. And you saw immediately that the first two included laughter. There’s funniness in clouds. Whether it’s Charlie Brown struggling to see all that Linus tells him and Lucy he sees in the clouds; or whether it’s clouds as a dancing chorus representing what Aristophanes’s  Socrates says clouds, as goddesses, are (and It’s just the way they are); or whether it’s linguist and blogger and native English speaking Rich Rhodes’s clouds as verb — clouds can be funny.

So is there a prototypical cloud? My blogger friend Theophrastus with his quick “Harrumph” after his parade of clouds
suggests not.
“It’s just the way English is spoken,” Rich has said. He might as well have said It’s just the way Greek was written or Just the way Charlie Brown comics were put in the movies.

Clouds are clouds. And not clouds are not clouds. And clouds are not not clouds. And yet both those things in the sky that we call clouds and also our using clouds the word for these things and everything else we mean (or others take) by our saying “clouds” can’t really be conceived of as “prototypical,” right? Clouds can be nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs too. Particle, wave, field, and such. Okay, Rich protests. But there is the prototypical use of the verb “to cloud” as in “X clouds one’s view of Y” and in “always playing with language only clouds the issue.” That’s just the way it is; just the way I say we say it is: “It’s just the way English is spoken.” And since we’re hardly using well formed full and fully grammatical English sentences in this cloudy paragraph, we might as well confess to wordplay. And then we ask ourselves, Does it always depend then on not wordplay? Not language clouds language? Yes, he plays.

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8 responses to “Language Clouds: He Plays

  1. Somewhere in proverbs 8 – faithful and at play under the clouds – and delight – all our days…
    when he encouraged the clouds above
    to strengthen the fountains of the deep
    when he set to the sea his decree
    that the waters should not pass over his bidding
    when he inscribed the foundations of earth
    then I was beside him – faithful
    and I was his delight
    day by day
    at play in his presence
    at all times
    at play in the world, his earth
    and delighting in the children of humus

  2. Thanks always for the words, Bob! Just perfect here.

    And I like them here too:

    http://stenagmois.blogspot.com/2010/02/proverbs-8-english-only.html

  3. Hi Kurk,

    I don’t know if it’s just that I like playing with words, or if suffer from Compulsive Translation Disorder, or at least its “Biblical” variety. One tell-tale CTD sign is an inability to read something in translation without wondering what “the original said” and/or coming up with an amended, “improved”, or “corrected” version to fit in with how one understands or “hears” a passage. Fortunately, as it’s considered a disorder rather than a disease, I don’t think it’s contagious.

    Well, on Friday I’m whisking my mother away for two weeks in Scotland (does travelling by car ferry count as whisking?). I was in two minds whether or not to share my latest “offering” before I go. So I (metaphorically) tossed a coin, and you lost; so here it is. I hope you enjoy it, although you may think I’ve missed the boat on this one (which I hope I won’t do on Friday).

    In addition to my usual aim of bringing out what I understand the text to be saying, in this case I’ve also tried to avoid so-called “biblish”, so terms like “wicked”, “sinner”, and “righteous” had to go.

    In verse 6, I’m not convinced that “know” equals “watches over” (which seems to be the most common rendering) or “guards”. I just don’t see how we’d get there from “know”. As I see it, the psalmist is saying that YHWH “knows” all that following that path entails, as well as knowing where it will take those who walk it, both ultimately and en route. I struggled to bring that out, so just settled for “knows [all about]” to hint at it.

    I’ve also kept the line length down, as in poetry I dislike lines wrapping (but with two levels of indenting that means there are even more dots at the start of lines).

    With best wishes to you and yours, John
    ______________

    Psalm 1

    1 How much to be envied is that person
    … who does not follow the advice
    … … of the morally depraved,
    … or stand alongside those
    … … who habitually do wrong,
    … or associate with those
    … … who belittle what is right –
    2 but who delights
    … … in the LORD’s instruction,
    … and reflects upon it
    … … day and night.
    3 That person is like a tree
    … … firmly rooted by flowing waters,
    … yielding its fruit at the appropriate time,
    … … with leaves that never wither away.
    … Such a person is sure to succeed
    … … in every enterprise.
    4 The morally depraved
    … … are not like that at all;
    … they are more like chaff
    … … blown before the wind.
    5 That is why the morally depraved
    … … will not withstand [God’s] judgement;
    … nor will those who habitually do wrong
    … … be welcome where good people meet.
    6 The LORD, you see, knows [all about]
    … … the path good people take;
    … but the path of the morally depraved
    … … leads to nowhere but destruction.

    • John,
      I’m glad your coin turned rightside up! Laughed at your “CTD” or, rather, with it!

      Speaking of turns, I really like many things you’ve written here and am so glad you shared them.

      First, “how one understands or ‘hears’ a passage” reminds me of what translator Everett Fox gets from translator Martin Buber:

      … read the Bible as though it were something entirely unfamiliar, as though it had not been set before you ready-made…. Face the book with a new attitude as something new…. Let whatever may happen occur between yourself and it. You do not know which of its sayings and images will overwhelm and mold you…. But hold yourself open. Do not believe anything a priori; do not disbelieve anything a priori. Read aloud the words written in the book in front of you; hear the word you utter and let it reach you. (from The Five Books of Moses, page x)

      Second, your turn in your first line is striking! It sounds like permission, no – like more of a command (in the passive voice), to envy. (Isn’t envy, at its beginning at least, a kind of passivity, morally speaking?) And the “not” of the second line turns it more, more ironically.

      So, third, your question of whether “The LORD, you see, knows” is quite a turn. It’s a play on “see” and a play on “know” that goes back to the Garden of Eden before humans could taste and see everything, could know both good and evil. Your Psalm to Genesis, to the moral mix up at the Beginning.

      Finally, what a path your rendering has led us down (but not, in the end, “to nowhere but destruction” even though we come to that in our reading). Clever, John; and yes, for me tremendously enjoyable.

      • John Radcliffe

        Kurk, I’m glad you enjoyed it. You seem to find more in my renderings than I remember putting in.

  4. BTW Kirk, I loved the Langston Hughes poem that you quoted over at BBB recently:

    Let all who will
    Eat quietly the bread of shame.
    I cannot,
    Without complaining loud and long.
    Tasting its bitterness in my throat,
    And feeling to my very soul
    It’s wrong.
    For honest work
    You proffer me poor pay,
    for honest dreams
    Your spit is in my face,
    And so my fist is clenched
    Today-
    To strike your face.

    I did a quick Google search on him, but I didn’t find “Pride”, so can I ask about the line “It’s wrong”? Now I’m not accusing you of sloppy transcription (would I?), but is it “it’s” (=it is) or “its” (as in “its bitterness” two lines before)? Either would fit.

    None of the other dozen or two poems of his I came across spoke to me like this did. That’s part of my problem with poetry. There I am; drinking in the words, then I nearly choke myself on some linguistic fly. And so (to mix my metaphors) I find myself back to earth with a bump. It’s the same with music: I have loads of CDs with just two or three tracks I ever play, but those I do like may get played and played. Similarly if I buy a book of photographs (I just love looking at landscapes and buildings), there might be just a handful of images that I really like, but those are embedded in a book among others that either just don’t interest me, or where (to my eyes) the photographer didn’t show me what I wanted to see.

    Now I can’t do anything about the music (as I can’t play an instrument, let alone compose), but I suspect that’s why I take photographs (so I can look at them later), and why I play around with Biblical words and my own.

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