Words are like fossils

There is a relationship between written words and fossilization.  It is taxidermy of an idea. Words that have ossified can lose their meaning. Words work best when spoken and heard directly. They carry more of the original meaning.  We all know about the game of telephone, which ends up with wild misinterpretations of the original. It is so, to a lesser extent, with almost everything people ever say or write. You could also liken it to making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy;  or of a cassette. It eventually gets blurry. We all have had misunderstandings over text or email that could have been avoided if someone had been there to hear our tone of voice. Every utterance is not the pure idea; it is the sketch someone managed to make of it, and then what the other person hears is their sketch of the sketch.  I like to play a game in German class where the kids draw crazy creatures, with different animal heads, body parts, etc, keeping the pictures secret and hidden. I then choose a monster and describe it slowly it as a listening activity, and they draw them on their whiteboards. The different images that emerge are either uncannily similar to the original, or wildly different based not only on how much the kid understood , but how well he can draw.  EVERY TRANSLATED DOCUMENT HAS THAT SAME EFFECT. Doubly, triply, quadruply filtered through different points of view and different writing abilities. Imagine how much more so this occurs after a text has been around for 1000 years, and has been translated, beaten and buffeted by societal meanings.  Retelling the stories breathes life into them, but can also change their form. What remains might be a recognizable fossil.  Or it may look more like sedimentary silty mud or polished creek-stone, completely different from the original living idea. 


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