Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Russell Brand perform at Soho Theatre. It was an intimate affair; a test run before he shoves his jokes into a duffel bag and sets off on tour.
I had never seen Russell live, so wasn't aware of the plethora of comedy on offer. The first instalment came from the eager blondes populating the first two rows. Each was intent on getting Russell's attention, and all but out-performed him in their attempts. At one point, Russell had to remind a particularly eager blonde that this is not a conversation, and stressed that she work to ignore the little voice inside her head that insists on her being annoying.
After he was done wrangling his fangirls, Russell whipped out a pretty profound observation about the way that we use - or rather misuse - language.
I won't divulge the context in which he brought this up, partly because no one likes a plot spoiler, and partly because it was buried within a web of existential thought so complex that my brain is still trying to wrap the whole way around it.
Basically, Russell projected an image of a diet Dr Pepper advertisement above the stage. The ad showed an image of the drink, alongside the words 'Unbelievably Satisfying'. He then posed the question: if we use the words unbelievably satisfying to describe something as banal as diet Dr Pepper, what language do we have left to describe the moments in which we genuinely feel unbelievable satisfaction?
He wondered, what will we say when we find our soul mate? When we land our dream job? When we hold our baby for the first time? Will we feel frustrated by our inability to verbally express this feeling, because the words unbelievably satisfying have no gravitas anymore?
As Russell spoke of our fast-and-loose, close-enough-is-good-enough approach to language, I shrank down in my seat, heavy with the knowledge that I have been contributing to the degradation of language, too.
In the weeks preceding the show, for example, I'd taken to the word divine. I thought it was a beautiful sounding word, and thus used it to describe people, the weather and most everything else. I didn't stop to consider, however, that I was perhaps cheapening it, or somehow skewing its meaning by using it so flippantly.
If I'm being honest, that overcast day probably wasn't God's best work, and that barista who made my morning coffee probably wasn't ethereal. What word will I use when I do have a truly spiritual encounter? It'll be like the girl who cried divine; no one will believe me!
After the show, I spoke about this idea with some friends. One suggested that the meaning of a word relies on its delivery; that the tone in which we utter words determines what we mean by them. To show this, he turned to me and said I love you twice. The first time he said it solemnly and slowly, and the second time he said it jovially. Though I agreed with him that the two utterances held vastly different meanings, I argued that meaning should be embedded, first and foremost, in the words themselves, rather than in how we deliver them; that we shouldn't have to rely so heavily on tone to convey meaning.
Another friend suggested that it is our lack of vocabulary that forces us to reuse and misuse words. Or perhaps we do have an adequate vocabulary, but we're reluctant to make good use of it for fear of being labelled pretentious or perceived as trying too hard.
What do you think, HuffPost readers? What do you make of Russell Brand's observation about the way that language is used in everyday conversation? Do you feel that we should work to use language more appropriately, or do you feel that this change is an inevitable one? Post your opinions in the comments section below!
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