Here’s my post: Writer's Pet Peeve #437 (or For Anyone Who is Word-Sensitive): Please refrain from anachronisms like referring to yourself (or anyone else who ever scribbles down a thought) as a "scribe" . . . It gives me chills, in a bad way. On the other end of the spectrum, no slang--unless you can truly keep up with how quickly it changes. (I think "peeps" expired from the lexicon 6 years ago.)
The responses that came in made me think more about what I meant, but when someone teased I must be an “English teacher” (which I was, for the record), I tried to explain with this: “Writing a poem, you spend so much time looking for the perfect word or turn of phrase that words begin to exist on a different level than most experience. (I have a physical reaction to how certain words sound or the way they make me feel. The closest most can come to understanding this is when they hear the word ‘moist.’)”
At first, I felt defensive, as if my time as an “English teacher” somehow dismissed me from having a valid opinion on the topic because it stigmatized me as “too picky,” an expert with unobtainable standards, but the responder, a recently-retired speech therapist, completely understood what I meant. She explained that she had spent hours as a child repeating multi-syllabic words because she “loved how they sounded,” and that she thought of most language in terms of male and female words. Hearing this I smiled from the inside out, yes! She got it.
I caught myself before writing back to others who had commented because I had to get my feelings together. –For me, most words are purely functional but some are seductive or repulsive, and I’ve had love affairs with certain words, and then bad break-ups. So how can I watch others who are now love-drunk with these same words? That is how I feel about, “Scribe,” old-fashioned as the damn word is. I was entranced by it when I was twelve, writing every thought in my diary, and going around telling everyone I was the “Scribe for My Tribe,” a phrase I was shamefully proud of having produced. I know. I had found my calling, but it’s grating, isn’t it?
Because the word “scribe” is archaic (and none of us is a medieval monk) there’s a pomposity built into it, and that arch now makes me queasy when someone uses it in 2014, but I was twelve and twelve means “relatively new to the planet.” Soon after, I removed the word from my toolbox in the way that a famous athlete’s number is retired into the gym floor tiles, and it’s hard now to watch others fall under its spell. I’m over the word. It’s a spice I no longer keep in the cabinet. Not only won’t I cook with it, but also I'm not eating anyone’s recipe if they’ve used it. I’ve had my fling, learned my lesson, and moved on. I just can’t go back there. [The lesson here: Clean out your cupboard often and keep the contents current. Mind expiration dates.]
Slang, on the other extreme, is language that’s as dead as anachronisms—but it’s as low brow as words get. The allure of slang is its immediacy. There is a creativity in reinventing how we express common things, but slang has the shelf-life of a house fly. It lives—or should—for about a day, but how it gets used and abused in its brief blip of a life! By the time your father’s absorbed an expression and allows it to slip into conversation, the word has become an embarrassment. (Let me just say, “Do you want to come with--?,” “#Hashtag,” “I can’t even,” and “That is all,” and you’ll be right along with me here.) While Grandpa uses it to show he’s relevant, it proves the opposite.
I picture slang as the lady who keeps her hair style from the era she felt most alive. That trends move on and there she is affixed to a telltale sign of the past—her prime—is less irritating than is the speaker who (still and/or ever) uses gang-slang from a handful of years ago to express her upscale white existence, un-ironically talking about her “littles in the hizzy.” (My physical reaction to this is overwhelming. . .)
I don’t know how else to explain it, except to say that, I work with words and can’t help but see the patterns that develop. It is my trade, and I know my inventory. Being a lover of language, however, isn’t about having a big vocabulary, but about being more conscious of choices and the signals they send. Language defines where we’re from, in time and place, and lots of it is out of our control. Words reveal our education, who we may wish to be, and even what we’re trying to hide.