My sentences have become littered with filler words. My thoughts are brought to a complete stop by “ums” and “likes”. Why do I say them? Perhaps I’m in the habit. Perhaps I’m afraid of looking aloof. As Taylor Mali put it, “In case you hadn’t realized, it has somehow become uncool to sound like you know what you’re talking about? Or believe strongly in what you’re, like, saying? Has society just become so filled with these conflicting feelings of ‘nugh’… That we’ve just gotten to the point where we’re the most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since…you know, a long time ago!”
The consequences for such decay are enormous. George Orwell said, “The current political chaos is linked largely to the decay of language.” And here we are, stranded in a wasteland of ambiguity, unsure of what we think and, therefore, insecure in, like, every way, you know? Winston Churchill put it this way: “We are slaves of the words we let slip out.” He was right. We were made to be masters of the words we speak, not slaves. What makes our slavery worse (if that’s possible) is that we have chosen this slavery. In the classroom we guard our tongues from slippage to avoid the raised eyebrow and the lowered grade, but then we speak in the hallways of the world with near incoherency, as if words don’t matter. But words matter.
Imagine a man, well educated, competent, reflective, who found himself living in a house full of mice. What would we think of him if he chose to squeak with them whenever they were near. Whenever they showed their faces he would show his front teeth like a mouse, get down on the floor and start squeaking. One minute he would speak like a man amongst men and the next minute he would squeak. Go ahead and ask him what he’s doing. Go ahead. He will say one of two things: either he is in the habit of squeaking and doesn’t know it (in which case he needs a kick in the pants) or he fears they will no longer be his friend (in which case he needs a really big kick in the pants).
The world is full of mice, my friends. It is full to the brim with people who don’t know how to speak and don’t care to know how. God made them to stand tall, to live vertically, but they squeak along the ground nonetheless. We are not mice. We are men and women made in the image of God, the Logos, the Word. He made us like himself and for himself. We are people of the Word so let us speak in a manner worthy of that Word.
But I begin to preach with conviction and maybe we’re not, like, ready for that yet…you know?
The history of the world has known many bad men: Attila the Hun, Adoph Hitler, Ivan the Terrible. All men who sought to throw God from his throne and sit upon it themselves. I propose we add another name to that auspicious list: Jacque Derrida.
Jacque Derrida believed that all the world was wired for the Logos, the Word. He considered God tyrannical for wiring us with himself and so the little anarchist came up with a scheme to destroy God. Like many others before him, he believed that if we take God down then we will be free. His plan for taking God down was sneaky, almost innocent. It was applauded as highly intellectual and worthy of the great minds the world over. Jacque Derrida decided to discredit the Logos, the Word, by discrediting words themselves. He wouldn’t destroy them, of course, he would simply discredit them. After all, he said, the simplest words have so little meaning. Surely, if little words have no meaning, then the Father of words also has no meaning. The father of Deconstruction Literary Theory, Jacque Derrida, needed no bombs, no guns, no high powered technology to free us from God, he simply freed us from the importance of words.
“Ums” happen. “Likes” happen. But when they happen we should not embrace them. When we say filler words and speak like those unfamiliar with the language we call English, we embrace Jacque Derrida. When we take such little care to learn our own mother tongue and to speak and write it with all the care due to such a mighty inheritance, then we lock arms with a very bad man and call him our brother. My friends, this partnership is not worthy of those who have been called by grace to be sons and daughters of the King.
Why would the King’s children so willingly become slaves to the words they let slip out of their mouths when there is so much in the English language yet to master? Thomas Howard said, “The English language is an entity o rich, so exquisite, so inexhaustible, that no one–not Shakespeare himself–has yet wrung it dry.” There so much to say, so many ways to beautify the world and enrich each others lives. Why waste our oxygen, precious as it is, on so many empty words? Because our words have become muddied, our sentences are muddy. Muddy sentences betray a muddy mind and a muddy mind betrays muddy affections. Know what, or Whom, you love and order your thoughts and words accordingly.
In I Corinthians 14:19, Paul says, “I would rather say five words with my intellect and intelligently than say ten thousand words incoherently.” And Proverbs 15:23 says, “A man has joy in making an apt answer, and a word spoken at the right moment–how good it is! (Proverbs 15:23 AMP). This is the joy of being earnest, people of conviction, people who are true, aimed and purposeful. This is the importance of being earnest.
I have a problem–a problem that needs your help to hold me accountable. And though “ums” and “likes” have slipped into my speech I, for one, will not link arms with a bad man. I will not call Jacque Derrida my friend and I will not aid him in his sneaky rebellion against God. Yahweh stands in righteousness and his Word is established forever. I beg of you, my friends, to renew your love for God by loving the words he has given to us and to speak in such a way that those around you are raised from the ground to stand vertically, like men, for it is good and fitting to do so.