Lately I’ve been tracking words that seem to come into vogue for a time and pop up in opinion pieces, commentary, interviews—do you remember “kerfuffle” a couple years back, appropriated by a number of writers and then faded; or “bloviating” as a descriptive of overblown harangues by a public speaker? The one I keep hearing today in TV commentary is “inflection point” which really is not about an incident or a new realization. but has slipped its definition: a point in an arched curve where the upward arc meets the downward arc. Somebody publicly used it as a description of an important moment and (surprise! )all of a sudden, political commentators are repeating it as it veers into evolution, saying it authoritatively, if not accurately. Words and phrases evolve. And then there are the colloquial habits of speech which catch on and don’t go away, like the affirmation, meaning “yes” or the Yessiest Yes I can muster, “ABSOLUTELY.”
In common speech, there’s the use of LIKE preceding practically any statement, but often in “And it was, like, AWESOME,” or was “like, TOTALLY, wow…, or du-uhh.” Every so often a writer will Do. The. Thing. With. Periods. And from some generation after mine, the curious practice of starting any explanation with “SO…”
I’m sure you have heard that “Neat “ and “Cool” are now “Sick” or “Dope,” but have yet to reach the superlative pinnacle of AWESOME.
Words are rarely precise and accurate –much of our language arises from metaphor that solidified into definition, and the misconception that they correspond with reality. You have to hold them lightly as you assume they’ll communicate something close to what culture agrees on, a common understanding. Poets delight in using words in new ways, forging fresh and startling images, new meanings, and oh, the poor mystics who were always getting shushed by Precision-Protective Censors because they were reaching into experiences of the Holy using uncommon or too-common (read sexual) language to describe the indescribable. Even Catherine of Siena, who plumbed the depths of trinity and humanity in her Dialogue, has a passage in which she confesses, “What shall I say? I shall stutter A-a, because there is nothing else I know how to say.” (Dialogue 111)
Words, like viruses, mutate. Used for effect, or fun, or just mistakenly, they may catch on, and perform on a larger stage. Families have key words and phrases that are special to them, carrying memories. So do various organizations and societies, with sayings and signs and meanings only they can communicate.
We Dominicans have our precious words and traditions, our mottoes, our pillars, our hymns. In their sharing and repetition they form us as a Family and will in ways surprising and unforeseen carry us to new understandings of ourselves and our mission. Praise, bless, preach. Be Peace. Build peace. Preach Peace. Share the fruits of contemplation.
Think of how the word Preaching has widened and deepened for us as Dominican women have claimed the charism. “The Holy Preaching,” the “Pulpit of our lives.” “ Being formed by the Word of God” which challenges and converts us individually and collectively; the Living Word ever new as it permeates us and all creation and is carried and interpreted by us, each with our own imprint and pronunciation.
We come now to the Word Made Flesh, about as far as language can be taken, and its ever-bountiful corollaries that so audaciously name us “The Body of Christ,” and “Words of God.” By the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, by the anointing of the Spirit, by participating in the Paschal Mystery, by being fed at the Holy Banquet of Eucharist, we humans are Christened, “ Christed.” We are sacraments and metaphors for the closest bond, the deepest union God can grant us; of Creator and Creation, Lover and Beloved, Speaker and Spoken. We are an evolving language by which our world moves into a fulfillment we cannot express, a meaning we will ever be reaching for.