In the beginning there was the word – and it wasn’t to be trusted
Words are slippery critters – even on a good day. On a bad day, they can be very slippery indeed. You have to be careful with words. Even when they’re saying that a picture is worth a thousand of them or that the camera never lies – even then, they’re being tricky.
Whoever measured truth by volume? And whilst we’re at it, when did a camera have any sort of communicative intent? You have to know what you’re doing to actually lie. Even those big, expensive cameras with a brain don’t do epistemology.
So, to be clear, words need to be viewed, framed and focused on with the utmost suspicion.
They may rattle around in their casual way, referring and reminding, denoting and connoting,
pretending that there is nothing untoward going on… But fundamentally, once they start to get together all bets are off. Before you know it, white can be the new black, black can be the new brown and all hell can break loose. Honestly, it’s enough to make you see red.
Here’s an example. There have been an awful lot of words about ‘pokies Australia’ and ‘losing’ in the press in recent months. Thousands of words. But the thing is, some of those words have been a little slippery.
There was a headline on ABC at the start of the year that said “Tasmanian’s lose more than $200 million on pokies in 13 months”. That article was brim full of words.
You see, the idea of ‘losing’ here – that one little word – suggests that those happy islanders have got nothing for their money, that they’re somehow removed from their own cash in a way that is somehow unfortunate. ‘Losing’ is a bad word, right? It has negative connotations.
But those Tassies didn’t lose anything. They paid for an experience that they were happy to pay for. No-one would say they lost that money on a film ticket, would they? No-one would say they lost the price of a newspaper once they’d read it any more than they would an apple that they’d eaten.
You see how it works? That one little word conjures up a whole host of stuff that is just plain wrong. So the moral of the story is this. If you want to see the real picture, don’t count on the words to help you. They’re not to be trusted.