Language and invention

An upcoming media personality I really, really like is Mike Pesca of NPR.

I say "upcoming" because I hear him on shows recently other than the NPR staple news magazines, talking on subjects other than sports.

Mpesca-7a60f001efa175c7aedfb099527722e0c563a355-s3-c85Or on local stations talking about sports, too.

He was on Seattle's local NPR affiliate, KUOW, earlier this week, talking about the Super Bowl, of course. He pretended to be offended when asked to predict the score, but then quickly cut his own protest off and said the Seahawks would win 24-20.

As I said, I've been hearing him on the NPR news magazines for years, talking about sports. He always makes any sport sound interesting because he offers smart opinions that reveal something about the player, or the sport, or the contest - not himself. (Every time the other NPR sports commentator, Frank Deford, comes on, I shut the radio off.)

But, again, I hear him now talking on non-sports topics. Maybe it's just me getting out more, but I suspect he is pushing to burnish his brand as a media personality outside of sports.

Last night I was driving between beers and heard him on an uneven show moderated by Luke Burbank, talking about the supposed poplular misuse of the English language.

The riff he and Burbank were given was the use of the word "literally" in vernacular conversation. People say "literally" when they mean, of course, "figuratively."

Both Burbank and Pesca pretended to hate what they were naming an abuse of usage.

Burbank uttered the uninformed truism that language is about "expressing ideas," but while Pesca humored the riff they were supposed to string out, Pesca, dressing up his tutoral to Burbank as a concession to the social scientists who are non-judgmental about language usage, explained how common usage re-works languages and that meaning follows metaphor.

The next station in this train of thought, of course, is to acknowledge that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

But I think I wanted to veer somewhere else, which was to say, almost all language starts as metaphor, and what makes language so powerful, when your metapor is strong enough, is that your metapor ends up reshaping what is normative, what you see, what you account for, how you frame choices to your unconscious.

All this money and business attention to technical innovation in our culture, and yet the very rulemaking of human consciousness is still in the hands of novelists, poets, songwriters. Nice thought, that.


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