So anyway, I don’t know how to blog without scrolling endlessly through the internet. I have now remembered why it is that I began that bad habit in the first place–for fodder, for stuff to say. I don’t know how to write if I’m not reacting to something, which is a serious drag. In my desperation, therefore, I did go peek at Twitter yesterday because I heard there was lots of freaking out about that prayer in Congress, the one that ended ‘Amen and Awomen.’ And, though I have muted all the people who irritate me a great deal, I saw a lot of reactions on the right and left, which I do think is helpful, and then I came across this tweet:
"Amen and A-woman" is a long-lived Southern/black preacher signature. Rep. Cleaver meant it as a kind of witticism. He doesn't think AMEN actually has the word MEN in it; he wasn't being hyper-anything.
— John McWhorter (@JohnHMcWhorter) January 5, 2021
The comments, of course, ranged all over from ‘oh, that’s so interesting’ to ‘blasphemy!’ so that, as usual, the thing we chiefly know is that nobody agrees about anything, least of all the uses of words. What I find delightful, however, is that, as language changes, most of us don’t remember where the words came from in the first place, so that when they shift to mean something else, we have no knowledge of what it is that we are relinquishing. I didn’t know, for example, that mouvoir, which has basically been completely left aside for bouger, is the French version of impact. English speakers mostly forgo the horror of trying to figure out the difference between effect and affect, being so afraid of the Nazis of the Grammar (dictionary dot com notwithstanding). This is why we have impact spreading itself all over the place in the most irritating way. It’s just too hard not to use it. The irony of this picture, then, completely escapes us in that we have devoted ourselves both to the word and to all its various meanings:
In the same way, mouvoir, which means to move, is impossible to conjugate. You can’t just say J’ai mouvé ma voiture, which would be so easy. Instead it’s j’ai mu with one of those little hats over the u.
I learned all this from my father who is teaching himself Old English in his spare time. That’s what happens when you never even took up the doom scroll in the first place, which also, when I stopped to think about it, presented to me a good laugh. Twenty years ago, if you had told me that people were ‘trying to give up the doom scroll’ I would have thought there was a scroll somewhere, and that someone was trying to give it away or something. This is how I feel all the time listening to my children talk about their technological devices and Minecraft wars. I don’t understand any of the jargon–at all. Listening in, I wonder, should I learn about what they are trying to say? Or, like Old English, is this beyond me right now?
The question of what we’re allowed to do with language is crucial, of course, but I think it’s also fine to sit back and watch it drift by. If someone wants to take amen and turn it into awomen, that is a curious and wondrous thing to do–something that Grammarly does not approve, having corrected me three or four times until it gave up. The person “praying” that “prayer” wasn’t really praying. The awomen was the least objectionable bit. The part that should really shock is that he invoked the name of Brahma, whom he declared to be a monotheistic God. This one god is merely known by many different names. We’re all just worshipping Brahma under the guise of worshiping Jesus or Allah or whatever…in Jesus Name Awoman. I find this excessively diverting. “In Jesus Name” coming out of the mouths of most “Christians” might as well be Braham for all the theological usefulness it has. The God I worship is not Braham and some clueless person announcing it over the American Congress doesn’t make it so. He can’t call belief into existence just by the use of his microphone. So also, the word amen does have such particular linguistic theological import that I won’t be saying awomen in church at the end of my real prayers. I will reserve its use for blogging and other kinds of scintillating conversations because, honestly, it’s pretty great.
This is what happens when a person tries her best to stop doom scrolling. Her mind goes in all the directions. And now, I will go and try to teach some children to spell, which is, as we know, a completely useless activity and also impossible. My children are genetically unable to spell, even with the help of Grammarly. Have a nice day!