Beware Of Equality
So the other day I was waiting in line at the movies, which was surprising. Not that I was at the movies, but that I was waiting in line. I don’t particularly like crowded movie theaters, so I usually try and go during off peak hours. One reason is I always seem to time leaving my apartment, so after I take the train, walk to the theater, buy my ticket and my popcorn, and get to my seat, the trailers have just finished, and the main feature is starting.
When I show up and there’s a bunch of people, it throws off my schedule. Of course I can’t get too angry, because if nobody ever went to the movies, they’d close down the theater and put up some huge karaoke bar or bowling alley or something. And because I thoroughly suck at both karaoke and bowling, I wouldn’t likely participate in either of those two activities, leaving me with a blank space in my mental entertainment schedule where the movie used to be. Or would have used to have been. Or whatever. So while I appreciate the need for a steady stream of customers, I try to avoid them at all costs. Which is why I was surprised that so many people were waiting on such an off peak time.
I think there was some school related activity or something, as they all had on their school uniforms, and I overheard people talking about some project or something. I seem to remember once in high school when we were studying “Heart of Darkness,” by Conrad, we all watched the movie “Apocalypse Now,” which was based on the story. So perhaps that is what they were doing.
I overheard two guys behind me talking about grammar, and I wondered what movie they were seeing that had anything to do with grammar. Most movies are about car chases and bank robberies, and metaphorical aliens, but not dangling participles or split infinitives. So I asked them what they were talking about.
They said they were talking about their teacher, who is kind of a language zealot. Now I’ve heard about self-professed language “mavens,” those guys that like to write articles about how famous people misuse grammar, but I’ve never heard of a language zealot before. So naturally, I asked them to please elaborate on this.
I turns out this guy is part of the anti “be verb” movement. Some of the crowd he runs with would like to remove the “be” verb from our vocabulary all-together. Others say that it does have its uses, like when describing static things like an address or a phone number. Since I have no idea what this means, I asked them to please elaborate further, seeing as how the line didn’t seem to be moving at all. Somebody must have been making a special popcorn order or something.
Whenever you use a be word, you’re basically using the linguistic equivalent of an equals sign. Like if you say “I am hungry,” then mentally, you are saying that your entire entity, collection of molecules and atoms and beliefs and experiences are all collectively equal to the state of wanting to eat something. Now I didn’t know that people did so much thinking when they made simple statements like this, but according to this professor, it all happens subconsciously in a split second or so.
Since the brain is based on a categorical representational system, it immediately goes off on a search for everything else that could be considered “hungry,” since you are saying “I am hungry,” your brain figures that it had better equate you with anything else it can find in your history that “is hungry.”
The reason this is a bad thing is that it creates a lot of static labels that clog up our neural pathways. Like a bunch of sticky notes all stuck inside your brain that never get cleaned out. Like if you said “I’m hungry” and then a couple minutes later said “I’m angry,” that would set up another equal sign in your head that “hungry” = “angry.” So maybe two weeks later, if you said “I’m hungry,” your brain would remember the “angry = hungry” definition you gave it a couple weeks ago. If you weren’t really angry, it might look around to find something for you to be angry at.
To make it even more confusing. If one day you said “I’m angry,” and then a minute later said “I’m angry,” but then two days later you said “I’m hungry,” and then said “I’m happy” you brain would go into a never ending tail spin, trying to figure out how “angry = happy” which would likely make you feel very confused, at least on a subconscious level. It’s basically like having about a hundred adware programs running on your computer simultaneously, clogging up your resources and making your computer run really slow. If you run some anti-adware software, your computer will run much faster.
This guy was trying to teach his students to say things more accurately, that way you can slowly get rid of those linguistic equals signs clogging up your mental processing speed. So instead of saying “I’m hungry,” say “I feel hungry,” because everybody knows feelings change all the time. So even if you said “I feel hungry,” and right after that said “I feel angry” your brain would see them as mere coincidences, rather than trying to force them into the same category in your brain.
Some other examples that they gave me.
I’m angry Ã I feel angry
I’m tall Ã My height measures 89 inches.
I’m fat Ã The scale reads 250 pounds when I step on it.
I’m broke Ã My bank account contains $2.45
I’m shy Ã I don’t feel like talking to people right now
And so on. Notice the verb changes? From a “be” verb to feel, measures, reads, contains, feel. All these verbs can easily change state based on the situation, and won’t clog your brain with useless equivalencies.
And just as they finished explaining all this too me, I turned out that all those high school students were in line for a different movie, and I was able to watch my movie in a relatively empty theater, just how I like it.