One of my private ambitions when I took this job was to eradicate the word passion from the pages of Merrimack Valley Magazine.
What’s so bad about passion?
I went to college in an era when good teachers encouraged writing students to resist the magnetic pull of mindless word patterns. Since then, corporatespeak and internetspeak have been followed by the rise of “written” communication comprised of memes and GIFs and emojis. Yes, language is flexible. It does and ought to evolve. But it’s easy to feel as though we’re facing a sort of linguistic ecological disaster.
This year saw George Orwell’s “1984” rise again as a best-seller, but there seemed to be more interest in his dark vision of authoritarian control — and in the anticipated video game version of “Animal Farm” — than in his warnings about the use and abuse of language, perhaps because this is one area in which we are muddleheaded across the political spectrum. Americans have a healthy distrust of elites, but that sometimes leads decent people into believing nonsense and thinking that some YouTube maniac who lifts weights in his garage knows more about medicine than a doctor with a decade of experience. So how dare anyone expect it to go well when we put forth the radical notion that there is good writing and bad, and that bad writing should be treated like giant hogweed. We are all becoming little politicians. Stick with the cliches and you’ll be far less inclined to offend anyone.
I have not lived up to my goal, but I think of it this way — when I carelessly use the word passion, Cupid takes an arrow. The poor guy can only get hit so many times, and I’m eventually going to strike his heart. The head-spinning days when I met my wife over a plate of cheap Chinese food in the city of Lowell? PASSION! But no, people are passionate about public safety, client satisfaction, home insulation, collecting ugly sneakers and the unspeakably horrible Disney version of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh.
We are killing Cupid. We are plugging that fat little angel with so many arrows that he’s starting to look like St. Sebastian in Andrea Mantegna’s painting. It will be our fault if future generations think passion has something to do with remembering to put the milk in the refrigerator so it doesn’t go bad.
Misused or vague words and phrases such as “fake news,” “politically correct,” and “privilege,” have proliferated like backyard poison ivy. Our humble publisher has learned to avoid using the phrase “this begs the question” around me since I began complaining that almost no one uses it correctly. He pauses when it comes to mind, smiles and says, “… this raises the question,” and we nod as though we’re admiring a glass of Old Pulteney single malt scotch.
By paying attention, we polish words until truth and beauty are revealed. Thankfully, the richest pleasures are awarded to those who are — and you knew this was coming — passionate about language. What’s more, we leave Cupid safe among the mistletoe, uninjured and free to sing his song.
For more of Doug’s writing, read the current issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine – on newsstands now – or purchase here.