Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Words Spoken, Words Written

I wish I spoke well...and I'm not referring to the residual effects of tongue cancer on my ability to speak clearly enough so that other people can always understand me. I mean I wish I were able to put my thoughts together quickly enough to enable me to instantly say what I wanted to say, rather than saying something lame or saying nothing at all, or coming up with what I wanted to say sometime later.

There's that old saying which, like most old sayings has a good deal of truth to it: "It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and prove it." I, unfortunately, tend to do both.

How many times have I, having been snubbed or snapped at or insulted or neglected by a clerk or asked a totally unexpected question, felt angry or like a fool for not responding the way I should have responded at the very moment?

It's not that I am incapable of coming up with a blistering, sage, or witty (whichever is appropriate) retort to something said. I can...just not in time for it to do any good. Twenty seconds, five minutes, half an hour later I invariably come up with something absolutely brilliant I wished I'd said. It is no wonder I do not play tennis. Thought-mouth coordination is just as important to communication as hand-eye coordination is to sports.

Not only do I deal poorly with my own personal thought-mouth coordination, I frequently think of what I wish other people had said. To this day it truly bothers me that, upon landing on the moon, Neil Armstrong said, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." What he should have said and I am sure meant to say, was, "That's one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind." Amazing how much difference one tiny word can make.

And the insertion of the words "under God" into our pledge of allegiance--words which were not in the original version, which were never intended to be there, and which flagrantly violate the fundamental principle of separation of church and state and were inserted only to satisfy fundamentalist Christians (in my opinion, the worst kind)--sincerely drives me into a frenzy.

I would have loved to be a candidate on the platform at the Republican debate when the audience booed the gay soldier in Afghanistan. Not one of those gutless-blob candidates had the guts to say what may well have guaranteed them the Republican nomination. Had, the minute the booing occurred, any one of them had the guts to say: "All right...all of you who booed stand up! Here is someone wearing the uniform of the United States of America, someone who volunteered to put his life on the line every day to protect your sorry asses and you have the utter, unmitigated gall to boo him? You're a disgrace and, should I be the Republican candidate for president, I do not want your vote."

I have often said that one of the main reasons I became a writer was that writing gives me time to think after I speak, and to go back and change things so that they come out the way I wanted them to. Spoken words are immutable: once they leave the month, they can't be changed or taken back, no matter how hard one tries. It's like trying to unring a bell. But written words are infinitely malleable: they can be rephrased, rearranged, amended, softened, hardened.

It is the spontaneity of the spoken word which holds both its power and its inherent danger. Hearing a moving speech, for example, often has more impact than reading about it, thanks largely to the ability of inflection to convey shadings of meaning. Many deaf who have learned to speak have a certain flatness to their voice because there is no way for them to really be aware of the importance of inflection.

Spoken words can and too often do confuse, or cause pain which cannot be uncaused. Both spoken and written words can induce thought, but unless the spoken word is recorded, it cannot be reheard; written words are always there and can be gone over again and again, allowing time for introspection. The spoken word is now; the written word is forever.

If it sounds as though I'm making a case for the written word over the spoken...well, considering the source, I guess you're right.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.

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