Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

You're So Obama

Share |

I love language, the way it is alive, squirms to go its own way like a naughty child, even with the best efforts of purists to keep a firm grip on it. But anybody who has a kid knows the kid usually gets her own way. Breaks free, goes wild, stays out all night, parties, drinks, does drugs, has sex. Okay, okay, not every kid, and for the record, not MY kid. (I’m covering my butt, just in case she drops by OpenBook and reads this post). I’m just sayin…

No matter, the child thing is simply a metaphor. What I’m really thinking about is language, how this lovely balancing act occurs between grammar-perfect “correct” language, and common-usage language. It’s in this balance that the most expressive communication, dare I say the best writing, occurs.

I’m not one to get self-righteously angry because someone has made a spelling mistake, or a typo, or used a sentence fragment or colloquialism, or left a participle dangling. Writers at all levels need to be vigilant, but language is meant to be used. Too much vigilance can mean not communicating at all, or writing in a way that has lost its life.

I’ve been reading about slang today. Slang is full of life, although the lifespan is getting shorter and shorter. Slang springs to life and then, once popularized, falls into disfavour, becomes cliché, hackneyed. If we’re lucky, slang dies a natural death. More often than not, it lingers on…

Good writing is purposeful, and slang has its purpose. To communicate, for certain, but linguists say slang is also about exclusion. It’s similar to those handshakes and signals that secret societies, the Knights Templar and such, used long ago to identify their own. Slang is elitist. It says, hey, you and I belong to this inner circle, this little group, and everyone else – well, they don’t belong.

The trouble is, according to a New York Times article, social networking and blogging is letting everyone in on the secret. All you have to do is look up the latest slang online, copy someone else’s Twitter or blogging style, or surf the online slang dictionaries and websites.

And whereas a good slang word might have once taken years to become part of our lexicon, now it can happen overnight, almost instantaneously. But that also means a shorter shelf life.

Which brings me to this - my personal shelf life as WIR with OpenBook is drawing close to the expiry date. I have a few more days left, and a few more posts to make. But I wanted to thank you for dropping by my blog, to say you’ve all been great, you're so Obama! Now I understand Obama slang is no longer in vogue, but it sounds just so much more complimentary than saying, oh I don’t know, something like, you’re so Harper…

~ Marianne Paul

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page