April 16, 2009

Retro Talk or Dumbing Down?

There is a post over at the As Time Goes By blog with a meditation on the changes that can happen in our language when we try to purposely dumb it down for the general reader. He mentions about how these kind of references, allusions and big words, used in the right context, can actually increase our knowledge:

"Throughout my lifetime, a good deal of my continuing education has resulted from my elders' use of references I didn't understand and sometimes didn't ask about, not wanting to reveal my ignorance at the moment. But I tracked them down later and learned. I'm pretty sure I wasn't taught about Diogenes in school, but discovered him through such an incident."

I've always picked things like that up through references in song lyrics, essays, and idle overheard talk. Pop culture is richer because of it's constant references to classical culture. Whether it's Deep Purple referencing a Beethoven sonata, Alexander the Great referred to in Die Hard, or even just "that book by Nabokov" slyly alluded to in that Police song it would make our already often tone-deaf culture even more bereft if we consciously removed this kind of thing from our language. I hope it proves to be a Sisyphean effort.

And anyway, who then would cry the tears of Eos?

(Go ahead. Look it up.)