Descent of a derogation.

by waxbanks

This is only about words, haha:

As I kid I used to think ‘hypochondriac’ belonged to the same category as ‘nutjob,’ i.e. synonyms for hopeless case. There was nothing to do for a hypochondriac, always going on about problems they don’t have. They’re too much trouble: they’re simply wrong, pathetically so.

Now that I understand what the term actually refers to — run-of-the-mill free-floating anxiety with its chief locus in health concerns — I’m disappointed in myself for never having wondered whether the term had a non-editorial purpose.

Children don’t ‘learn the meanings of words’ in some abstract sense; there isn’t a word/definition pair that simply slots into an empty memory bank somewhere in your brain-cabinet. They only use words, and silently absorb gigantic amounts of information about how words are used around them. If grandpa can’t help but curl his lip in disgust when he says ‘German,’ his kids and grandkids won’t even think of Germany as a country in the same sense as their own — for them it’ll exist first of all as a stimulus to disgust, and they’ll know first that the word is a unit of speech with that effect.

The kids will see ‘Germany’ in the emotional colour of grandpa’s reaction, and their own reaction to his anger, and so forth. Other colours too, needless to say, but emotional channels are wide open in such family settings. The emotional intensity of that environment grants special depth and primacy to the impressions we form there, whether or not we understand or appreciate that primacy. That’s what family is for, in part; that’s why it matters so much.

People seem to think of sentences as shipping containers for pure information, but much or most of the time the weight of significance actually rests on the emotional over/undertones of speech. You say ‘I love you’ and I barely process the words, but rather I hear proximity, vulnerability, softening (or hardening) of tone, tempo, pitch: the music which predates language.

The term ‘body language’ is itself a childish derogation of our primary method of communication.

We delay or deny our children access to their full powers of reasoning if we teach them that ideas have no meaning or value outside the emotional reactions they get out of us. And we fuck up our kids further by ignoring the massive amount of physical/emotional information transmitted along with every word.

It would’ve been useful for me to learn early on that ‘hypochondriac’ is a straightforward description of a bundle of feelings and behaviours, not an invitation to sneer. I might’ve realized more quickly that I was becoming one, and acted accordingly. Words get in the way.