Language eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 278 pages of information about Language.
from individual to individual according to the personal associations of each, varies, indeed, from time to time in a single individual’s consciousness as his experiences mold him and his moods change.  To be sure, there are socially accepted feeling-tones, or ranges of feeling-tone, for many words over and above the force of individual association, but they are exceedingly variable and elusive things at best.  They rarely have the rigidity of the central, primary fact.  We all grant, for instance, that storm, tempest, and hurricane, quite aside from their slight differences of actual meaning, have distinct feeling-tones, tones that are felt by all sensitive speakers and readers of English in a roughly equivalent fashion. Storm, we feel, is a more general and a decidedly less “magnificent” word than the other two; tempest is not only associated with the sea but is likely, in the minds of many, to have obtained a softened glamour from a specific association with Shakespeare’s great play; hurricane has a greater forthrightness, a directer ruthlessness than its synonyms.  Yet the individual’s feeling-tones for these words are likely to vary enormously.  To some tempest and hurricane may seem “soft,” literary words, the simpler storm having a fresh, rugged value which the others do not possess (think of storm and stress).  If we have browsed much in our childhood days in books of the Spanish Main, hurricane is likely to have a pleasurably bracing tone; if we have had the misfortune to be caught in one, we are not unlikely to feel the word as cold, cheerless, sinister.

[Footnote 9:  E.g., the brilliant Dutch writer, Jac van Ginneken.]

The feeling-tones of words are of no use, strictly speaking, to science; the philosopher, if he desires to arrive at truth rather than merely to persuade, finds them his most insidious enemies.  But man is rarely engaged in pure science, in solid thinking.  Generally his mental activities are bathed in a warm current of feeling and he seizes upon the feeling-tones of words as gentle aids to the desired excitation.  They are naturally of great value to the literary artist.  It is interesting to note, however, that even to the artist they are a danger.  A word whose customary feeling-tone is too unquestioningly accepted becomes a plushy bit of furniture, a cliche.  Every now and then the artist has to fight the feeling-tone, to get the word to mean what it nakedly and conceptually should mean, depending for the effect of feeling on the creative power of an individual juxtaposition of concepts or images.



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Language from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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