Friday, November 18, 2011

Word Wizards

Good news! Pizza is still a vegetable. It's odd that I hadn't known that it ever was a vegetable, but nice to learn that I can count it toward my daily veggie quota instead of beets and turnips. I should add that pizza is a vegetable as defined by the US Congress with regard to school lunches. Minor detail.

It brings to mind a maxim my parents used when we were kids: if you call a sheep's tail a leg, how many legs does it have? I only fell for it once, and was swiftly informed that sheep only have four legs, no matter what you call their tails.

It also reminds me of the time I tried to convince my readers that messy-desk people (like me) were more efficient than organized, neat-desk people. It's still true, by the way. Click here.

Lastly, it brings to mind a book I just finished reading for the first time: George Orwell's 1984. If you've never read this famous classic, I don't blame you. I doubt that a darker book has every graced the shelves of bookstores. A key theme was that the Party owned truth. If the Party said it was true, then it was true regardless of fact or history.

Here's the point. Words are powerful if used skillfully . . . for good or evil, for truth or deception. I doubt that anyone believes that pizza is a vegetable, but a handful of frozen food lobbyists convinced a handful of Congress men and women, who convinced the House of Representatives that it was, and legislation was passed that will boost the frozen food industry. Millions of dollars are made and lost daily by words, depending upon how they are used.

Words alone aren't enough, however. Words are to language what flour is to baking. Flour is the main ingredient of baked goods, but the sugar, spices, milk, and other ingredients give the cake or bread or muffins (or pizzas) their personality. Language is the same way.

Words are dry and dusty by themselves. To make literary cake, or verbal muffins, or linguistic pizza, you have to blend ideas together with emotions and feelings and passion. You also have to know your audience's likes and dislikes. Lobbyists know that US Representatives don't care as much about pizza as they do about votes.

We need to learn from the pizza story. Firefighters are plain speakers, which isn't bad, but politicians haven't paid much attention to the unleavened bread we've offered them.

"We need decent equipment."
"Help us with recruitment."
"Why can you spend a billion dollars on a G8 summit, but can only afford to give us crumbs at election time?"

Perhaps we need to bake them a verbal black forest cake to get their attention.

As disappointed as I am that one of my favourite foods is not a vegetable (legislation notwithstanding) I am encouraged by one thing: if the US House of Representatives can be persuaded that pizza grows on vines, we can persuade Parliament Hill that firefighters are the very core of public service . . . and that they need to care more about us.

Time to recruit more language chefs.


  1. Yes! Verbal Black Forest cake!

    Our family just finished reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin." You probably know that in the first half of the 19th century, many people were aware of problems in the institution of black slavery in the USA, but the presenting of the facts of the case in a highly dramatised and inflammatory novelisation was considered by some to have triggered events leading to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

    So, you see, you DO need to write a book. It's verbal Black Forest cake.


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