Words in high definition

A language’s precision is never more than the extension of its users’ commitment to accuracy. Words are as vague as human communication is and as sharp as human meaning can be.

Human language is old, but language self-awareness is relatively recent. And once a word has been seen (rather than used), it cannot be unseen. We all use words, but not all of us see them. Putting some distance between us and the words we use. Pausing to think. Pausing to notice.

Every word has a definition, but definitions shouldn’t really exist. They were invented so that language can be sharpened like a sword blade. The Greeks in Alexandria, the Renaissance academies, the tutelary figures of philology and rhetoric, the trivium of untrivial discipline – this was how words were taken off the pixelated screen of unreflected use and brought out in high definition.

In ancient and medieval times, the masters of language and written words were highly prized and rewarded. Education has since the beginning been seen as something of an athletic exercise leading one from one side to another. For the Greeks, intellectual education or Mousikē, the realm of the Muses, was the natural companion of physical education. For the Romans, to educate was ex – ducere, to lead the mind out of the undergrowth of ignorance into the light of reason and cognitive realization. Between the muses and the self-transcendence, the written word was the rallying cry. And it was a cry uttered in high definition.

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