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Language

  • It was pleasant to talk shop again; to use that elliptical, allusive speech that one uses only with another of one's trade.

  • ... correct English is the slang of prigs ...

  • The older I grow the more sharply I mistrust words. So few of them have any meaning left. It is impossible to write one sentence in which every word has the bareness and hardness of bones, the reality of the skeleton.

  • Language is memory and metaphor ...

  • Language is one of the thin walls humanity has built up over centuries against its own bestial and destructive impulses ...

  • Dialect is the elf rather than the genius of place ...

  • 'Zis and zat' when uttered by the French is considered charming, but 'dis and dat' as an Africanism is ridiculed as gross and ugly.

    • Alice Childress,
    • "A Candle in a Gale Wind," in Mari Evans, ed., Black Women Writers (1950-1980) ()
  • The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.

  • [On George H.W. Bush:] I was absolutely intrigued by your recent statement on the deficit. Remember how you put it? 'I am from all these people as to what — not only what the situation is but what we can do about it.' Atta boy, Goerge I love a man who can stand up to those 'English-only' freaks and say exactly what's on his mind.

  • You're a pretty one to talk about language now; you could be took up anywhere and jailed for most of the verbs you uses in an hour.

  • She calls a spade a delving instrument.

  • Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.

  • Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.

  • English is weak in describing emotional states or intensities of interpersonal relationships.

  • ... language can't be appropriated by one person, one poet. The words belong to all of us.

  • Language matters because whoever controls the words controls the conversation, because whoever controls the conversation controls its outcome, because whoever frames the debate has already won it, because telling the truth has become harder and harder to achieve in an America drowning in Orwellian Newspeak.

  • Murky language means someone wants to pick your pocket.

  • ... anything being perceived as being superior takes the noun. And everything that isn't, that's judged to be inferior, requires an adjective. So there are black novelists and novelists. There are women physicians and physicians. Male nurses and nurses.

  • She might struggle like a fly in a web. He wrapped her around and around with beautiful sentences.

  • [On the United States:] A nation which does not appreciate that the simple elocution exercise 'Merry Mary married hairy Harry' contains not one but three vowel sounds.

  • An appreciation of words is so rare that everybody naturally thinks he possesses it, and this universal sentiment results in the misuse of a material whose beauty enriches the loving student beyond the dreams of avarice.

  • There is no liberal education for the under-languaged.

  • ... a mind enclosed in language is in prison.

  • ... words alike make the destiny of empires and of individuals. Ambition, love, hate, interest, vanity, have words for their engines, and need none more powerful. Language is a fifth element — the one by which all the others are swayed.

  • Nowadays people write English as if a rat were caught in the typewriter and they were trying to hit the keys which wouldn't disturb it.

  • ... sentences were used by man before words and still come with the readiness of instinct to his lips. They, and not words, are the foundations of all language. ... Your cat has no words, but it has considerable feeling for the architecture of the sentence in relation to the problem of expressing climax.

  • Don't you understand that all language is dead currency? How they keep on playing shop with it all the same ...

  • Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought.

  • Language is a mixture of statement and evocation ...

  • The breakdown of our language, evident in the misuse, i.e., the misunderstanding of nouns and adjectives, is most grave, though perhaps not so conspicuous, in the handling of prepositions, those modest little connectives that hold the parts of a phrase or a sentence together. They are the joints of any language, what make it, literally, articulate.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "Language and Politics" (1973), Occasional Prose ()
  • Among the many evils which prevail under the sun, the abuse of words is not the least considerable. By the influence of time, and the perversion of fashion, the plainest and most unequivocal may be so altered, as to have a meaning assigned them almost diametrically opposite to their original signification.

    • Hannah More,
    • "On the Danger of Sentimental or Romantic Connexions," Essays on Various Subjects ()
  • The abuse of terms has at all times been an evil.

  • Only where there is language is there world.

  • I wanted to choose words that even you / would have to be changed by ...

  • A language is a map of our failures.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • No one sleeps in this room without the dream of a common language.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • title essay, The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • Language is power ... Language can be used as a means of changing reality.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Teaching Language in Open Admissions" (1972), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • A sentence is not emotional a paragraph is.

  • ... she spoke English with a foreigner's extreme caution, as though entering an unexplored forest full of dangers.

  • Now and then I asked a question. Daddy would preface his answer with the assertion, 'I hear what you're saying beneath that!' It gratified me with its implication that there was a deeper meaning to my words than even I understood. If only I could discover what I really meant!

  • Labels not only free us from the obligation to think creatively; they numb our sensibilities, our power to feel. During the Vietnam War, the phrase body count entered our vocabulary. It is an ambiguous phrase, inorganic, even faintly sporty. It distanced us from the painful reality of corpses, of dead, mutilated people.

  • The language of labels is like paper money, issued irresponsibly, with nothing of intrinsic value behind it, that is, with no effort of the intelligence to see, to really apprehend.

  • Be careful of words, / ... they can be both daisies and bruises.

    • Anne Sexton,
    • "Words," The Awful Rowing Toward God ()
  • Words and eggs must be handled with care. / Once broken they are impossible / things to repair.

    • Anne Sexton,
    • "Words," The Awful Rowing Toward God ()
  • Whatever its function, / like's not a conjunction.

  • All media can muddy the mind. Language leads to literature. It also leads to dogma.

  • Today painting is about paint. Music is about sound. But words still cling to something very old. Like religiosity, language has its seat in the old brain, in the reptilian brain stem of early man.

  • In all cultures, poetry and spice come into the language from the working class. The ruling class is static. The reactionary is always a prig about words. He maintains the status quo. It is in his interest to remain a cultural fundamentalist. He doesn't experiment; he has too much to lose. This is why the language of the overclass goes stale, dries up, and becomes as uptight as the psychology of such folks while the speech of working people is as fluid and changing as the sea. The only language that doesn't change is a dead language (standing water), which is why Latin is such a convenience for scientists who want to label things, who have hardening of the categories.

    • Jennifer Stone,
    • "Black Is Beautiful," in Mama Bears News & Notes ()
  • Language is being laundered in the west wing of the White House ...

  • From her earliest childhood words had always been to her what dolls and toys are to other children. ... a beautiful word or sentence had the same effect upon her imagination as a fragrant nosegay, a strain of music, or a brilliant sunset.

  • ... this is the oppressor's language / yet I need it to talk to you.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • Language. I loved it. And for a long time I would think of myself, of my whole body, as an ear.

  • Some feminist critics debate whether we take our meaning and sense of self from language and in that process become phallocentric ourselves, or if there is a use of language that is, or can be, feminine. Some, like myself, think that language is itself neither male nor female; it is creatively expansive enough to be of use to those who have the wit and art to wrest from it their own significance. Even the dread patriarchs have not found a way to 'own' language any more than they have found a way to 'own' earth (though many seem to believe that both are possible).

  • I've been in New York only a few days and I have learned only two words of your language: one is Swell, and the other is Lousy. ... 'It's swell to be with you and excuse, please, my lousy English!'

  • The primary needs can be filled without language. We can eat, sleep, make love, build a house, bear children, without language. But we cannot ask questions. We cannot ask, 'Who am I? Who are you? Why?'

  • The term girl not only serves to avoid certain anxiety-arousing connotations inherent in the word woman regarding aggression, sexuality, and reproduction, it also serves to impart a tone of frivolousness and lack of seriousness to ambitious, intellectual, and competitive striving that women may pursue.

    • Harriet Lerner,
    • "Girls, Ladies, or Women? the Unconscious Dynamics of Language Choice," Comprehensive Psychiatry ()
  • Reagan's genius as a communicator lies in his use of ambiguity. ... Ambiguity is the mother of Teflon.

  • All language is political ...

  • Language uses us as much as we use language.

  • There is no such thing as a natural sentence but there is such a thing as a natural paragraph and it must be found.

  • Whoever has power takes over the noun — and the norm — while the less powerful get an adjective.

  • Her profession was words and she believed in them deeply. The articulation, interpretation, appreciation, and preservation of good words. She believed in their power. If you truly named something, you had that degree of control over it. Words could incite, soothe, destroy, exorcise, redeem.

  • ... language and consciousness are not unrelated. Quite the contrary. Language frames thought and, as such, it is often the forerunner to the kind of internal change that allows us to live more comfortably with the changing behavior. New ways of being come to our attention; we name them and, even if we don't act upon them at once, a new sense of the possible exists inside us, a new dimension, a new way of seeing the world, perhaps of being in it.

  • Punctuation is biological. It is the physical indication of the body-rhythms which the reader is to acknowledge ...

  • Death is a dramatic accomplishment of absence; language may be almost as effective.

  • Few would suggest that sexual or racial inequality exists because of language use. Nor would many argue that banishing sexist and racist labeling would in itself result in a just society. At the same time, it is clear that language not only reflects social structures but, more important, sometimes serves to perpetuate existing differences in power; thus a serious concern with linguistic usage is fully warranted.

    • Francine Wattman Frank,
    • in Francine Wattman Frank and Paula A. Treichler, Language, Gender, and Professional Writing ()
  • Just as the development of computer science has necessitated an expanded technical vocabulary, so too do social changes require transformations in traditional language usage.

    • Francine Wattman Frank,
    • in Francine Wattman Frank and Paula A. Treichler, Language, Gender, and Professional Writing ()
  • There are some words I find impossibly difficult ... 'Love,' 'feeling' and especially 'happiness' are at the head of the list. This is not because I haven't experienced any of them but because whenever I think about using the words I don't really know what anyone means by them. I'd find it easier to sit down and write a book about each (coming, obviously, to no conclusion) than to use them casually in speech or writing.

  • Vocabulary is ... a sensitive indicator of thought — or at least of the absence of it.

  • Language conveys a certain power. It is one of the instruments of domination. It is carefully guarded by the superior people because it is one of the means through which they conserve their supremacy.

  • The power of sonorous language is great, it goes to the gates of death.

    • Colette,
    • "Journal à rebours" (1941), Looking Backwards ()
  • ... people with an interest in the workings of any society must also concern themselves with its language — how it is structured and used, what its users believe about it and so on.

  • Words were the only net to catch a mood, the only sure weapon against oblivion.

  • Language always betrays us, tells the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness when we would most like to be precise.

  • The basic agreement between human beings, indeed what makes them human and makes them social, is language.

  • The dictionary is, however, only a rough draft.

    • Monique Wittig,
    • in Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig, Lesbian Peoples ()
  • Language casts sheaves of reality upon the social body, stamping it and violently shaping it.

  • They say that there is no reality before it has been given shape by words rules regulations. They say that in what concerns them everything has to be remade starting from basic principles. They say that in the first place the vocabulary of every language is to be examined, modified, turned upside down, that every word must be screened.

  • There is a loving way with words and an unloving way. And it is only with the loving way that the simplicity of language becomes beautiful.

  • To lovers of the long and intricate history of language the disuse and final death of certain words is a matter of regret. Yet every age bears witness to the inevitableness of such loss.

  • It is said that life and death are under the power of language.

  • A word after a word after a word is power.

  • ... if you are perfectly willing to shock an individual verbally, the next thing you will be doing is to shock him practically.

  • The use of language is all we have to pit against death and silence.

  • Language — has always been changing, & it has been said, as morals grow worse language grows more refined ...

  • Women don't really use more tag questions, do they?

  • Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth.

  • ... the problem of language, of the use of the medium in all its aspects, is the basic problem of any work of literature.

  • Language is also a place of struggle.

    • Bell Hooks,
    • "on self-recovery," Talking Back ()
  • ... people who understand grammar always have a keen sense of the ridiculous.

  • Language doesn't belong to grammarians, linguists, wordsmiths, writers, or editors. It belongs to the people who use it. It goes where people want it to go, and, like a balky mule, you can't make it go where it doesn't want to go.

  • ... if there's one thing consistent about language it is that it is constantly changing. The only languages that do not change are those whose speakers are dead.

  • Absolute freedom doesn't exist and never did. Just as we don't spit on the floor at work, swear at customers, or send out letters full of misspellings, so too we might have to 'watch our language.' It is odd that the request for unbiased language in schools and workplaces is considered intolerable when other limits on our freedom to do whatever we want are not.

  • Language both reflects and shapes society. Culture shapes language and then language shapes culture. Little wonder that the words we use to talk to each other, and about each other, are the most important words in our language: they tell us who I am, they tell us who you are, they tell us who 'they' are.

  • ... language is magical — it's a form of conjuring. If you do it convincingly, readers will follow you.

  • 'Tis an admirable thing to see how some people will labour to find out terms that may obscure a plain sense, like a gentleman I knew, who would never say 'the weather grew cold,' but that 'winter begins to salute us.' I have no patience for such coxcombs ...

    • Dorothy Osborne,
    • 1653, in G.C. Moore Smith, Letters of Dorothy Osborne to William Temple ()
  • Language makes culture, and we make a rotten culture when we abuse words.

    • Cynthia Ozick,
    • "We Are the Crazy Lady and Other Feisty Feminist Fables," in Ms. ()
  • [When her daughter suggested the President refer in his conversation with foreign dignitaries about lawn care to 'fertilizer' instead of to 'manure':] But remember, it took me almost thirty years to get him to call it manure.

    • Bess Truman,
    • in Evelyn Oppenheimer, The Articulate Woman ()
  • Language itself reveals what it tries to disguise: the dominating drive to dominate.

  • Language tethers us to the world; without it we spin like atoms.

  • I can remember the lush spring excitement of language in childhood. Sitting in church, rolling it around my mouth like marbles — tabernacle and pharisee and parable, trespasses and Babylon and covenant.

  • In South America euphemism appears to be the grisly preserve of violent power. 'Liberty' was the name of the biggest prison in Uruguay under the military dictatorship, while in Chile one of the concentration camps was called 'Dignity.' It was the self-styled 'Peace and Justice' paramilitary group in Chiapas [Mexico] that in 1997 shot 45 peasants in the back, nearly all of them women and children, as they prayed in a church. What have the souls of the south done over the past few decades to deserve quite so much liberty and dignity and peace and justice?

    • Isabel Fonseca,
    • "A Land in Exile From Itself," The New York Times ()
  • Language is a wonderful thing. It can be used to express thoughts, to conceal our thoughts, or to replace thinking.

  • I opened Shakespeare at the age of nine and was electrified. I crept closer and closer to language for protection. I hoarded words like money ... I depended on language to save me. And after many years of sorrow and illness, it did.

  • The term 'clean bombs' provides the perfect metaphor for defense analysts and arms controllers. This sort of language shields us from the emotional reaction that would result if it were clear that one was talking about plans for mass murder, for mangled bodies. Defense analysts don't talk about incinerating cities; they talk about 'countervalue attacks.' Human death, in nuclear parlance, is most often referred to as 'collateral damage' ...

    • Carol Cohn,
    • "'Clean Bombs' and Clean Language," in Jean Bethke Elshtain and Sheila Tobias, eds., Women, Militarism, and War ()
  • The world of public discourse — political, social, diplomatic, commercial — has so corrupted language that we are rightly more suspicious of the meaning of words than we are convinced of their veracity. Language has been turned on its head.

  • Clarity of language is the first casualty of authoritarianism.

  • I still gasp at the revealing lingo for weapons: erector launchers, thrust ratios; my teeth grind reflexively when Dubya sputters Eye-Rack and Eye-Ran have 'nookyular capabacity.'

  • Most of us don't know a gerund from a gerbil and don't care, but we'd like to speak and write as though we did.

  • We live at the level of our language. Whatever we can articulate we can imagine or understand or explore. All you have to do to educate a child is leave him alone and teach him to read. The rest is brainwashing.

  • My research suggests that men and women may speak different languages that they assume are the same, using similar words to encode disparate experiences of self and social relationships. Because these languages share an overlapping moral vocabulary, they contain a propensity for systematic mistranslation ...

  • We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

    • Toni Morrison,
    • Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1993, The Source of Self-Regard ()
  • Sexist language, racist language, theistic language — all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not, permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

  • Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.

  • The liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves.

  • I have been a believer in the magic of language since, at a very early age, I discovered that some words got me into trouble and others got me out ...

  • I must have been 7 or 8, squatting on the summer-hot pavement with my sister, scrawling disappearing messages on the concrete with snapped leaves of an ice plant, when it occurred to me that people could agree on the name of a thing, in this case, a color — the green of the translucent fluid that oozed from the leaf, which we determined was chartreuse — while seeing it very differently. I understood that when my sister agreed on the name chartreuse, she might, in fact, be seeing what I call red or yellow or blue. I began to see language less as a bridge between people than as a threadbare rope tossed from one edge of a precipice to open hands at another.

    • Allison Hoover Bartlett,
    • "An Ear For Color: Exploring the Curious World of Synesthesia, Where Senses Merge in Mysterious Ways," The Washington Post ()
  • ... language, as symbol, determines much of the nature and quality of our experience.

  • Language is double-edged; through words a fuller view of reality emerges, but words can also serve to fragment reality.

  • ... I drown / in the loosed wave of language.

  • Ageism in language can be very subtle and may not be as immediately apparent as racist or sexist terms. Like its counterparts, however, it is equally necessary to rid our language of ageist expressions.

  • Language is not neutral. It is not merely a vehicle which carries ideas. It is itself a shaper of ideas ...

  • Language helps form the limits of our reality.

  • ... language is neither innocent nor neutral. Linguistic habits condition our view of the world and hinder social change.

  • Down through the years certain fads of slang had come and gone, and their vestiges could be found in Janie's and Mabel's conversation, like mastodon bones in a swamp.

  • A word is no light matter. Words have with truth been called fossil poetry, each, that is, a symbol of a creative thought.

  • Mine was a Catholic girlhood spent gorging on metaphor ... Maybe we had too much meaning too early. It was like having too much money. The quirkiness of life was betrayed, given inflated significance by our rich symbology. We powered around our ordinary lives in the Cadillac language of Catholic spirituality, looking on with pity as the Protestants pedaled their stripped-down bicycles.

  • French was the only language we had in common, and even that was like a dialect we had picked up at a rummage sale, rusty and missing a lot of essential parts.

  • Like a diaphanous nightgown, language both hides and reveals.

  • I personally think we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.

  • Language is, without a doubt, the most momentous and at the same time the most mysterious product of the human mind.

  • Our native language is like a second skin, so much a part of us we resist the idea that it is constantly changing, constantly being renewed.

    • Kate Swift,
    • in Casey Miller and Kate Swift, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing ()
  • ... language screens reality as a filter on a camera lens screens light waves.

    • Kate Swift,
    • in Casey Miller and Kate Swift, Words and Women ()
  • Every language reflects the prejudices of the society in which it evolved.

    • Casey Miller,
    • in Casey Miller and Kate Swift, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing ()
  • Language is a virus.

  • She had the tough slangy local manner, the local obscenities, the curious American relative pronouns: what-the hell, why-the-hell, where-the-hell, who-the-hell, how-the-hell were the only ones she used.

  • The father tongue is spoken from above. It goes one way. No answer is expected, or heard. ... Our schools and colleges, institutions of the patriarchy, generally teach us to listen to people in power, men or women speaking the father tongue; and so they teach us not to listen to the mother tongue, to what the powerless say, poor men, women, children: not to hear that as valid discourse.

  • Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.

  • The words we use are symbolic of the values we hold.

  • A language is the only subject you can't learn by yourself.

  • I very much wish that some day or other you may have time to learn Greek, because that language is an idea. Even a little of it is like manure to the soil of the mind, and makes it bear finer flowers.

  • It is time for dead languages to be quiet.

  • Being bilingual is like having a wife and a mistress. One can never be sure of either.

  • Japanese language and manners uncover a layer of consciousness we are not aware of. ... We are very sloppy and noisy and unreal. Japanese have words to express things we do not express, microscopic moods, nonbili, tea-drinker's colors. The Japanese language can teach us to see and to feel things we have not been aware of. If there is no word to express a certain mood or inpression, it scarcely exists in our consciousness. At least it doesn't exist with anything like the authority and clearness that it exists when it has been classified and given a name.

  • ... humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue ...

  • If it is true that the violin is the most perfect of musical instruments, then Greek is the violin of human thought.

  • Yiddish is the voice of exile, the tongue of ghettos, but I'll shed a tear when it joins ancient Greek and dead Latin. For gossip and insult, you can't beat Yiddish.

  • I do dislike people with Moral Aims. Everyone asks me why I learn Arabic, and when I say I just like it, they looked shocked and incredulous.

  • The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!

  • Language is decanted and shared. If only one person is left alive speaking a language — the case with some American Indian languages — the language is dead. Language takes two and their multiples.

  • Greek is the morning land of languages, and has the freshness of early dew in it which will never exhale.

  • ... he landed on the French word the way a hen lands on the water, skeptical, but hoping for the best.

  • Our language, once homely and colloquial, seeks to aggrandize our meanest activities with polysyllabic terms or it retreats from frankness into a stammering verbosity.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "Language and Politics" (1973), Occasional Prose ()
  • I dream in German and I love in French.

    • Claire Goll,
    • in Marcel Cordier, La Lorraine des Écrivains ()
  • [On speaking French fluently rather than correctly:] It's nerve and brass, audace and disrespect, and leaping-before-you-look and what-the-hellism, that must be developed.

  • I think you always feel braver in another language.

  • Basque is one of the world's more alarming languages. Only a handful of adult foreigners, they say, have ever managed to learn it. The Devil tried once and mastered only three words — profanities, I assume.

    • Jan Morris,
    • "A Separate People" (1968), Among the Cities ()
  • Nothing makes one feel clumsier than speaking a foreign tongue badly.

  • In the end, words, volumes of words, all signed, were the eloquent metaphor of my life. It was the language born of hands that was my beginning.

  • ... it was a well-known conceit of hers to speak French whenever English would do.

  • A language is the only subject you can't learn by yourself.

  • It is as unhealthy for the global community to rely too heavily on one language as it is to mass-­cultivate a single crop.

  • To remain monolingual reduces the mind to the confines of a tramline.