Words we love to hate/hate to love

The Writing Center (wrcenter@irn.pdx.edu)
Thu, 27 Mar 1997 16:50:49 -0600

Hi Centaurs,

This thread has me going . . . I think Carl's Aristotelian offering
of the distinction between special and common topoi made alot of
sense. In my mind, there's a real danger in mistaking the means for
the end and I think much of the specialized terminology used in
various disciplines has become reified to the point where it's no
longer recognized as the methodology, but rather as the subject
itself. Well, wasn't that about a mouthful of "snortified
intertextuality"? I guess, for me the crux of these posts is that
language is metaphor and, further, that the use of language is an
act. Therefore, if the language I use offends or stigmatizes
someone, I'll try to use different language; on the other hand, if I
use language that pleases and entertains, I'll probably continue to
use that language with that/those folks. If I use language that
excludes whomever it is I'm trying to communicate with, I'll try to
find language to include whomever. In the same way, when I'm
tutoring and find myself talking to a writer about writing, I have to
be acutely aware of whether I'm missing the mark (my immediate
audience consideration); if I sense that I'm missing the mark for
whatever reason, I have to be ready to move on, try a different
approach, a different metaphor as it were.

Each spring I teach a few Family Gardening Worshops around the
Portland area through the Oregon State's Extension Service Master
Gardening Program (whew!). Anyway, my audience ranges from children
(toddlers on up) with no gardening experience whatsoever to crusty
old orchard dwellers whose grafting knives have become quasi-organic
appendages. And what I find myself doing is using language that
ranges from "seeds like to be wet and warm" to "relative ph
profoundly affects micro-nutrient uptake". The point be here that
even within a specific discourse community, interpretive community,
audience, group, whatever--there resides an incredible range of
experience and knowledge. My primary task as the leader, if you
will, is, as Eric put it, to sustain the conversation of gardeners,
to encourage conversation between people with a shared interest.
And, ya know, now that I'm thinking of it, I really don't know how to
do that until I begin a conversation with someone, and we then begin
to discover what we know and how we know it and THAT guides me in my
responses to individuals. I'm not sure how any or all of this plays
out in presentations at conferences--or elsewhere. Gotta think and
talk about this some more.

Peace and conversation,

Cliff Barnett
PSU Writing Center



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