Tag Archives: discourse

Rhyming as Credibility: General Truths in Early Childhood

During the elementary school era of childhood in the United States, rhyming carries with it a certain authority. It gives the meaning behind words a type of magical credibility. Speaking in rhymed verse becomes a stand-in for truth-telling, lending the verse the authority it needs to go unchallenged. It can be used as a retort, an argument in and of itself. Rhyming verses are the aphorisms of childhood.

I’m still working through the mechanics of this phenomenon, but I’d be willing to posit that rhyming, and rhyming verses especially, occupy a privileged position in children’s language. Rhyming is a type of authoritative discourse. Consider a few examples:

  • Snitches get stitches
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones…
  • Easy cheesy/ Easy-peasy lemon squeezy

Each of these sayings are tossed about the playground like so many punch-balls, and even find their ways into the classroom and the mouths of adults who wish to speak on the child’s “level.” To reach them with an authority they will understand, master, and even be able to take ownership of. The easy-peasiness of it, if you will, provides children with a short-hand for the final word on a subject. A commonly held belief among their peers that cannot be challenged.

The rhyming appeals to the authority of truth, because the rhymes have been repeated, are ingrained into the consciousness of the average American school child. They hear these often from one another and the adults on positions of authority within knowledge production and dissemination. Even upon hearing a rhymed phrase for the first time, the fact that the phrase rhymes lends it an aura of believability.

Children repeat these things to one another ad nauseam. The phrases, by virtue of their rhyming qualities, are easier to remember, and thus more likely to be repeated. The repetition itself lends an element of truth–would these phrases be repeated so often if they weren’t true?

And so this becomes, if I remember correctly, an instance of second-order indexicality. The type of speech (rhyming verse) becomes a marker of the very quality from which it derives its power (truth). Or maybe I’ve been away from the text books too long and can’t remember how to use “second-order indexicality” correctly. Perhaps I’ve argued myself into a merry-go-round death-trap.

In any case, something is going on below the surface of these agonizingly trite childhood chants.

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Filed under Childhood, Wordplay

Your bumper-sticker is yelling at my bumper sticker

After stumbling across what is I’m sure a small fraction of the vile, often shockingly incoherent trollspeak on twitter, I began to wonder if twitter itself as a platform was partially to blame.

Actually, what made me think of this was a bumper sticker on an SUV that had small words I couldn’t read fast enough framing a middle line of bold, larger font that screamed “CHILD DEATH” at me before it drove off. And that is what made me think of twitter and its trolls. Of all discourse that is a series of “blah blah blah INCENDIARY REMARK blah blah blah.” I still have no idea what that particular bumper sticker was trying to get at, expect my attention and possibly my (out)rage.

I see fewer and fewer bumper stickers. Maybe they don’t stick on the new-fangled metal they’re using to build cars these days. Maybe aesthetic tastes have shifted where I live where car adornment & self-expression is concerned. Or perhaps we have moved this type of discourse to other media…like twitter. It’s a leap, but I’m willing to go there, tenuous lines drawn taut across the metaphoric platforms, keeping me suspended between—never mind. [insert segue here]

Does twitter, by virtue of its strict limits on the space allowed to express oneself, somehow encourage this? At the very least, it facilitates sound-bytes of thoughts, conversation, and argumentation (if it can be called that). At least twitter, unlike bumper stickers, allows for immediate rebuttal. Although so do bumper stickers if you park your car long enough and the person you’ve pissed off has paper and pen handy. Or a bat.

My point is that twitter trollspeak, like some terse bumper stickers, is shaped by a medium that places a premium on efficiency of message. Logic is nice and all, but if you can make it fit, by all means dispense with it. And if you have strong feelings about something, perhaps you’re more likely to boil down those strong feelings into what is most likely to elicit a reaction: incendiary remarks.

When I was younger and coming into my own (extreme) opinions, before the tempering influence of college and then the real world, I proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read “If you’re against abortion, get a vasectomy.”

The fact that I put that out to the world makes me cringe now. Happily, it wasn’t there long. I removed it along with the bumper that bore it after a minor fender-bender, having come to my senses about such irksome, trite forms of “discourse.” An inflammatory bumper sticker was no way to get my message across, much less change anyone’s mind or influence public policy. Even more happily, by that time I had matured slightly in my politics and realized this phrase mis-represented my views, and moreover, assumed only people with penises were anti-choice. How’s that for gender and sex bias? (I hadn’t yet learned that the ERA was defeated largely due to a woman’s efforts.) Ah, ignorant youth…so loud and unproductive.

And that is how twitter trollspeak feels to me much of the time. Illogical, loud, unwilling to listen, and narrow-minded. Not to mention cruel and dangerous. Twitter as a genre and technological medium facilitates this type of “argumentation,” this type of expression. It allows for snippets of anonymous drivel and immediate responses and carpet bombings of bumper-sticker-level rhetoric. All without any windows to smash in retaliation. All we can throw at each other are words–and the threats they often carry.

I choose to believe we are smarter and more mature than this, or at least are capable of becoming so. It’s curious, this posited transference from bumper stickers to virtual reality. Media are not to blame–people and culture are. Bumper stickers and twitter and the rest are simply conduits, influencing the form messages may take, but not the messages themselves.

We make the messages. We can do better. Many people ARE doing better, but the trolls and their bumper sticker trollspeak remains an incessant cancer within public discourse.


Filed under Contemporary, Media, Technology