Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us? Bah. Every playground-dwelling kid in the world has shown that phrase the lie. In fact, it amazes me that we aren't more wary of the idiomatic anthrax that wages alchemical warfare inside us every day. As any self-help guru worth his weight in jacuzzis will tell you, the words we think and speak determine our moods, our perceptions and ultimately our lives. Tony Robbins - he of the iconic nineties whoop-yeah Bible 'Awaken the Giant Within' - may be relentlessly American, embarrassingly self-promoting and an outrageous coiner of Copyrighted Jargonese™, but he's pretty damn good on what he calls Transformational Vocabulary (™, natch).
The idea is that we're all infested with thousands of tiny linguistic burrs which lodge in our psychological schemas and profoundly colour our view of the world - often in shades of sludgy, depressive grey. The habitual words and metaphors we use to describe our selves, experiences and emotions inevitably limit and ultimately shape those selves, experiences and emotions. If you're feeling 'over-burdened' as you 'plough away' at work before you 'get slaughtered' at weekends, no wonder that your day has a submissively miserable farmyard pall.
It was Rory Kinnear who reminded me of transformational language this week. No, sadly not over a chummy brandy and ginger backstage at the National; I simply saw his Hamlet, which is a masterclass in performative vocabulary. Every word is obsessively, precisely coined: immaculately chosen, bitterly revelled in, each speech visibly poisoning his skittish, scatting body syllable by syllable.
For Hamlet is the master of self-torture through articulacy, the prince of destructive NLP. He talks himself into tragedy. The sheer inventiveness and sensual impact of his rhetoric makes his nightmare state of Denmark so real that it transubstantiates from word to matter. His metaphors of death, decay and danger are so relentless that they actually materialise.
His father becomes a pristine, revenging ghost. His uncle becomes a serpentine usurper. His lover becomes a maniac, his mother a whore and O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I. His world is one of mist and madness, hellfire and icy doubt, whatever the truth. This is Hamlet's play, and he's writing the script, and he'll enjoy every damn line of it, even if it is written in poison ink.
O God! God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on't, ah fie, 'tis an unweeded garden That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely
Just listen to it. Who could resist sinking into that vowel-seeping bog?
It's worth thinking about; I've been catching my own descriptive cankers, and holding them up to the light. They're noticeably, bizarrely martial; just look at this post.
Hmmm. I'm not sure I want to be Fortinbras.