Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Words: Use versus Meaning

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George Carlin

This isn’t about interviewing, but it is about language.

I love George Carlin, and I speak of him in the present tense because what he contributed to our culture is timeless.  What he did was get people thinking about the use of language and the meanings behind the words, the syntax, the grammar, the intonations, the pacing, the inflection.  In the taxonomy of human and interaction, he was a jester.  And on my list of societal influencers, he was the celebrity.  A celebrity jester.  In fact, he was a jester’s jester.

For those of you that don’t know, I love the concept of the jester, because the jester is the only one with the stones to speak truth to power.  The revolutionary wears the opposite mask; the dramatic/tragic one.  And most often, the revolutionary gets killed or crushed.  But the jester, (perfect set up for American Pie, but I’ll let it go …), the jester speaks truth to power through humor, and he/she manages to be so funny, like pee your pants funny, while so piercing, like uranium artillery shell piercing, that power can’t decide whether to send them to the gallows or buy them a drink.

I was reading an article where someone used the word “neutralized” to describe how the police would deal with shooters in public shootings and I started thinking about it.  Such a sanitary word for blowing somebody’s brains out.  Reminds me of that Star Trek episode where these two societies have been fighting a war w/computers for centuries.  Instead of a messy battlefield, random people are selected to report to death chambers like people would go to a subway platform and wait for a train.  This way, the war stays neat and clean and sanitized and so, there isn’t much motivation to end it.  But Kirk destroys the computers and now, both sides are terrified that the other side might launch real missiles and bring real Armageddon.  Now, they have an excuse to end the fake war to avoid starting a real one.

Neutralized.  I can imagine George Carlin asking, “How come the police have never ‘positivized’ anyone?  We might all agree that at one point or another, we’ve felt ‘negativized’ by them, but you never hear that either.  But neutralized made the phrase book.  Are we talking about psychological affects, or charges of subatomic particles, or what?”  I mean, as long as our society keeps using neat and clean words to describe horrible, sloppy, murderous acts of savagery and disembowelment against our principles and our humanity and each other, we’ll continue to putter along thinking everything is fine.

The jester knew different.

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Written by Interviewer

April 9, 2013 at 00:05

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