Words wear out. Infused with great meaning when they are first uttered, the significance/meaning diminishes with the passing of time as they become common coinage in the verbal soup that we live in, to the point that perfunctory usage depreciates language to mere social cache. As T. S. Eliot put it, “Words slip, slide, decay with imprecision” as they are employed by our common tongue. They become the, “well-worn words and ready phrases,” according to Conrad Aiken, which have the primary function of blocking out the unpleasantness beneath the surface, a process he describes as, “having built comfortable walls against the wilderness.”
It becomes the responsibility of each generation to re-invigorate language by using words in terms of personal experience, not merely for the purpose of gaining and maintaining social approbation. And when words are used in “personal terms” they can occasionally offer a fresh look at the meaning of words stripped of their perfunctory usage. T. S. Eliot put it this way, “Last years words are for last year’s season and next years words await another voice.”
Carl Jung had important insight on the need of this re-vivication of language, especially regarding, “Eternal Truth,” that religions often purport to purvey:
The church’s, “truth may…call itself ‘eternal,’ but its temporal garment must pay tribute to the evanescence of all earthly things and should take account of psychic changes. Eternal truth needs a human language that alters with the spirit of the times. The primordial images undergo ceaseless transformation and yet remain ever the same, but only in a new form can they be understood anew. Always they require a new interpretation, as each formulation becomes obsolete, they are not to lose their spellbinding power over that fuges Mercurius (i.e. Mercurius fuse) and allow that useful though dangerous enemy to escape. What is that about ‘new wine in old bottles.’? Where are the answers to the spiritual needs and troubles of a new epoch? And where the knowledge to deal with the psychological problems raised by the development of modern consciousness? Never before has eternal truth been faced with such a hybris of will and power?
And I close with a short Carl Sandburg poem, “Precious Moments”;
Bright vocabularies are transient as rainbows./Speech requires blood and air to make it./Before the word comes off the end of the tongue,/While diaphragms of flesh negotiate the word,/In the moment of doom when the word forms/It is born, alive, registering an imprint—Afterward it is a mummy, a dry fact, done and gone.
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