My own life, thoughts and work were off-limits. What was left were other people’s thoughts and lives and work – at least until I could figure out how to write about my own.
Thus a funny person, alive to the wisdom of building [his] brand, calcifies into a humorist, or a clever person into a witticist. It can be very amusing, Dickensian, when a fictional avatar has a narrow, caricatured personality: the girl who says, exclusively, shit girls say, or the tween hobo or out-of-touch masculine blowhard who is always true to type. It’s a lot less funny when a real person, supposedly the many-sided hero of his own life, decides to say only one sort of thing, and say it all the time.
how should a person be (on twitter)? I think we’re all still figuring it out. Lately I have begun to suspect that in order to be heard — really heard, permanently heard, MEGA-heard — a person might, paradoxically, need to micro-stfu.
At least I might.
I got this book on word origins (“Word Origins”) at Housingworks. It was originally published in 1950 so it’s full of charming anachronisms. Like any book about etymology or semiotics it makes you temporarily hyper-aware of your word choices and their various resonances. “Charming” for example would have been a dangerous insult in 14th-century England, when it still carried its original sense of “the Latin carmen, ‘song,’ usually a wicked chant or incantation of magic power like that of the notorious Lorelei.”
The entry on charm is in the chapter titled “Romantic Stories of Words About Women.” From the introduction to this chapter. we learn that women “have a most legitimate vocabulary that is all their own. A dress is ‘adorable,’ a room is ‘sweet,’ a baby ‘precious,’ ‘cunning,’ ‘darling.’”
We also learn that “because most women boil at a lower temperature than men, and perhaps because they are not so sharply disciplined in the accuracy of business they are given to the use of hyperbole, a Greek word that literally means ‘throw over or beyond’ and hence ‘overshoot the mark.’” The author seems not to suspect that he himself might be indulging in a bit of hyperbole.
This attitude of course is archaic except it’s hard to deny that some people “write like girls.” A former editor of mine will either deny or produce IM transcripts to verify that he once backhandedly-complimented me and Doree on how infrequently we “wrote like girls.” By telling me this I think he meant to call my attention to how often we, in fact, did write like girls. Filed under “writing like girls” = an overreliance on modifiers like “really” “very” “just” and “kind of.” Anything that makes you seem actually just really kind of unsure of yourself, you know what I mean? Extraneous adverbs and adjectives are also girly, as are chatty asides and euphemisms. You can write about getting a tampon stuck inside you for a week all you want as long as you come right out and say it and don’t write around it like a girl.
I also wonder whether anyone will ever bother to study this period of rapid linguistic and stylistic growth and change (besides Virginia Heffernan) or whether we’ll all just write tossed-off Tumblr posts about it that end with vague copout endings like “well, something to think about.” Well, something to think about.