good information is the best dope

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I sometimes think of how words are like little capsules. Speech and its symbols contain the content of the word and transmit it from mind to mind through space. Without these capsules it would be difficult to swallow what is communicated. Some of it would dissolve or spill out. The timing, sequence, and delivery of language would get messed up.

Some words are based on a simple rule. For example: everything that has gills goes in this capsule: (FISH). This type of rule make for a nice, neat package that bounds everything with gills in a single word. It is convenient to consume and we can rest assured while digesting its content. In this way communication is therapeutic. Language is a pharmacy with a vast inventory of pills.

This analogy has its weaknesses though. For instance, when we consume pills we may not actually know what they contain. Rather we get the effect that we think they’re supposed to have. It’s like if I said “gilled animals” and you did not realize that certain amphibians were in the capsule along with the fish. We may be able communicate nonetheless. Still, there is an incongruence in what I put in the capsule and what you digest. It’s as if the pill is filtered through an organ before entering our bloodstream and we absorb it even if the effect is not prescribed.

Another example: hearing “hit the nail on the head” for the first time and not knowing how to make sense of the capsule (HEAD). This particular usage conflicts with the usual contents of the capsule. The two prescriptions (HEAD) and (NAIL) mix with adverse reaction. These types of experiences may produce side effects such as constipation, dizziness, even mild dementia. Despite the discomfort we may ruminate on the abnormal forms of meaning until they make sense. Or we may discard the usage altogether.

I encountered these side effects of our dependence on the language-pharmacy while gathering material for my work 100! facts preserved from China. I observed contents without boundaries and concluded that capsules that do not contain their content will reform. I collected them and provided them with a new ground to thrive in. They are slowly settling back into a stable form, digestible with a prescribed effect. When observing these foreign forms I sometimes think that if I don’t know the meaning of a word then I am at liberty to fill it with whatever I want. But that’s just a figure of speech and analogies of course are soft around the edges.