Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Break the rules--it won't be beautiful, no--but you'll make the people around you smarter...

I knew one day I'd thank myself for reading so much nerdy Shakespeare.

The day is now.

If you don't feel like reading the link, what it basically says is that understanding Shakespeare requires bursts of increased brain activity. Why? Not because he spoke Elizabethan English--but because Shakespeare clearly didn't listen to his English teacher well enough. Shakespeare may have been a piggish xenophobe (or at least a materialist writing for such an audience) but his use of language was incredibly innovative: which is to say, we would all get in trouble for doing what he did with English. (Also why Shakespeare could never have been French. English is far looser and more fun to play with.) (See? You can end sentences with prepositions in English. Can you in French? I think not.)

Shakespeare invented words. (Or at least people think he did... can we really know for sure?) He also was a big fan of the "functional shift"--using a noun as a verb.

The first example of this that comes to mind is, of course, from As You Like It, a play near and dear to my heart. Silvius is complaining about Phoebe's perpetual bad attitude and scornful, barblike insults. Rosalind has just received a letter from Phoebe, and indicates (although this is a lie) that Phoebe has similarly attacked her/him? in the letter: "She Phoebes me. Mark how the tyrant writes."

How come Shakespeare can get away with this massacre of grammatical structure laws? I think it's because we know we cannot win any battle of words against the master of vocabulary. Shakespeare was incredibly articulate and his wordbank was more expressive, diverse and expansive than most writers, definitely most speakers, and certainly most playwrights (most of whom try to emulate the normal speech patterns of their day). (Probably why some people attribute the inventions of many words to Shakespeare--he was the first to actually record the fruits of his prolific linguistic resources.)

So... read Shakespeare. It makes you think hard and you will like it.

Not to mention that, like, the next time you say "like" as it was never intended (and you do have to say it--if you are exclusively writing this way, not intended for speech, functional shift becomes anthimeria), talk about friending someone on facebook or myspace, or talk about the latest episode of "Pimp My Ride" (two shifts for the price of one phrase--you can't beat this deal!) you can feel the warmth and fuzziness of the fact that you are doing your listeners a favor.
(I intended to talk about the George Orwell quote I recently included in a post, but I'm too sleepy and will do it later.)

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