If you’re a regular on Facebook, maybe you’ve been the recipient (or the perpetrator) of a status update that failed to communicate—a cryptic message about something personal in your life or an obscure song lyric posted for no apparent reason. (I’ve noticed that college students seem to favor the obscure song lyric option in what I take to be a perverse attempt to confound their elders). Such miscommunication is more than just sloppy speech or willful confusion; it falls under the category, I suggest, of what Wendell Berry calls the illegitimate use of the powers of language. “Language that becomes too subjective,” says Berry, that is too cut off from a common world, “will impose, rather than elicit, its desired response.” Genuine communication, real understanding, will not take place.
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