Carly Tavares
Writing about Writing
Prof. Lebduska
Pinker pg. 117 #2 final draft
Language: An Open Wound
Imagine a world without language, in your mind how do you imagine the world to be?
Without language it simply is not possible to communicate with one another on a verbal or
artistic level. Language is a form of communication that includes many forms of expression.
Steven Pinker’s essay, Words Don’t Mean What They Mean describes how language is vital
to human society. As an internationally well-known language and cognition scholar, Pinker
successfully depicts that language is an “open wound” to society by saying that it is
exposed to an “infectious world.” Although language comes in many different forms one
form of language that is definite in Pinkers essay is language as an open wound including
how we use the form doublespeak. Language as an open wound and forms of doublespeak
are part of our “infectious world.”
The proper definition of an open wound is an internal or external break in the body’s
tissue through which skin is usually exposed to the outside environment. In Pinker’s essay
he describes language as “... an open wound through which we’re exposed to an infectious
world”(115.) An actual open wound becomes vulnerable when not attended to and the skin
is exposed to the outside world. Similarly, language is an open wound because it is
exposed to people. In the world of English language speakers there are many open wounds
to language such as nonverbal communication. The exposure of language is not just
through verbal conversations but through conversations through non-verbal actions such as
instant messaging. Social media for instance a good example of nonverbal communication.
Social media is major factor which causes infection in the wound of language. We as
humans are able to communicate and express ourselves because of connecting to social
media networking sites such as Facebook. When we message we are using words to define
what we want to express. Facebook is one of the communicating tools on the internet in
which we are able to connect to others without having to see other people.
Since language is an important means of communication, this communication leads
to an open wound of words not meaning what they really mean. Pinker says, “Words let us
say the things we want to say and also things we would be better of not having said” (115.)
This leads to a wound where language can be hurtful. As the saying goes “there is a time
and place for everything” it is also the case in social media. Through social media what one
person posts may be acceptable to one person but harmful to another and this expression
can lead to a social controversy from one bad comment posted on the internet. Even if the
comment is deleted off the site it is never really deleted off the internet. We are trapped by
what we say on the internet because everything that we say is recorded and is left out of
our control. It is part of the infectious world in which we live in because anything posted on
the internet spreads from one viewer to the next in seconds. When we use Facebook we
are putting ourselves out there for viewers to see and if you think about what you post on
Facebook do you really keep in mind of what you are saying?
Language is a form of communication in which society uses words to hide the real
truth. Pinker is not surprised “that we sheathe our words in politeness and innuendo and
other forms of doublespeak” because it is true. Every day we use a form of doublespeak
without realizing it. People speak indirect to speech to “save face”, not to hurt feelings. In
this case the question of “Why don’t people say what they mean (115)” arises. Pinker gives
the reason as to why this is, simply because people are touchy about their relationships.
Sentences need to convey a message and negotiate in the relationship, without it, any filter
of politeness is lost. This is the main reason as to why people are indirect.
One way in which we encounter doublespeak is through intimate
Pinker displays this issue as a “linguistic dance” where the whole point to
getting further into the intimate relationship is sex. One does not simply say “Do you want to
have sex with me?” it is simply not a phrase we use to get the other person in bed with you.
There is a fine line between sex and romance. The word sex implies an action that has no
emotional feeling which in some cases is often selfish. Romance on the other hand is an
action which conveys emotional feeling, passion, love and is often selfless. A good example
of the linguistic dance would be the action of hooking up. When we try to have sex with
someone you are trying to stimulate them to get them to hook up with you however, with
romance you are trying to use language and or body language to stimulate the romantic
emotion. We may use seduction as doublespeak in intimate relationships to get the end
result of sex, but it is how the expression is delivered to the other person which changes the
linguistic dance. We all do the dance to protect ourselves from the open wound to keep the
relationship. By doing the linguistic dance we are giving our emotions a chance to become
vulnerable, which is a chance for an open wound to occur.
Language is many open wounds which involves an open world and Pinker describes
this in his essay by saying that, “we are exposed to an infectious world (115.)” By being
exposed to this world we are able to have many open wounds which help define different
type of language. An infection is what happens when a virus spread rapidly and causes
damage. Much like a post on the internet, it is a damaging factor to creating an open wound
to language. Languages which convey body language and emotion are open wounds which
explore the idea that words just don’t have a meaning unless fully expressed through the
actions that follow our words. Words not meaning what they really mean completes Pinkers
message that we as humans tend to “beat around the bush” by not saying what we want to
say directly. Sometimes being direct in what we want to say can be difficult because we
want to figure out the best way to say what we want to say in a way which does not confuse
or offend someone. Open wounds are essential to our way of life and without them we
would not be able to explore the many different means of communication in language.