I’m a WordNerd, and a writer to boot, so clarity of language is paramount in my world. I campaign for Simple Language and Global English in our corporate writing because making language easily digestible by all readers is crucial. We try to strike a balance between clear language and informal tone. We certainly don’t use idioms that do not translate or localize well (or at all), but in my not-work writing, idioms are so interesting to me. Most people don’t know where the terms came from, but use them all the time. There’s a segment on CBC called C’est la vie where the hosts go out and ask people how they use The Word of the Week. Often, there is some interesting (to my ear) usage, including some French idioms. I love that part of the show. As a Wordnerd, all wordplay is delightful. Things like Spoonerisms (‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy’ – Dorothy Parker), and the cockney rhyming slang (like, from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) are fun. I don’t claim to understand it all, so when Don Cheadle is explaining it in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, I really enjoyed that scene. Even Child says “I haven’t a Scooby” on the regular. For those who hear him say that, they accept what he’s saying from the context, and the infection vector of language has a new host.
I listen to Spotify at work. Sometimes I listen to a playlist that I have made, and sometimes I listen to suggested music. This morning was the latter. There was a cover version of a song that I’ve known for ages, and today for the first time, I clearly heard lyrics that I’d been mishearing for 30+ years. I laughed out loud. I mean, my mondegreen certainly didn’t make sense, but I’ve been mishearing it for so long that I just stopped trying and accepted the goofy lyrics as a legit thing.
There are certainly other times in my day when I just go on autopilot and don’t really listen to what’s going on around me. Because there’s so much ambient noise around us – music and traffic and conversations and TV, it’s easy to be passive about the messaging that you absorb every day. Listening only for the things I think are going to be there, instead of the things that actually are there surely isn’t a good way to sashay through life. This is a bad habit, to be sure. So when there’s a Eureka moment like I had listening to Spotify this morning, that’s a good thing.
This Advent, may I listen with an ear for understanding what I’ve heard. May I take time to escape the barrage of noise to hear what messages wait in the quiet.