Sunday, December 28, 2008

What I Learned from Grouchy Smurf

Over the last couple weeks, I have heard many repetitions of the phrases "I hate winter" and "I hate snow." Recently, while conducting my regular shoveling routine, I had occasion to consider these utterances. My thoughts drifted to one of the icons of my childhood: Grouchy Smurf. I'm sure that if the Smurfs showed up on my snowed-in doorstep, I could effortlessly convince the majority of them to do my shoveling for me (though it probably wouldn't be worth the trade-off to have to listen to the accompanying singing). Yet, good ol' Grouchy would no doubt tell me exactly what he thinks about shoveling. From Wikipedia: "His catchphrase is 'I hate (something somebody else mentions)'".

I suppose the influence Grouchy has had on my life is a good argument for restricting media influence on children. I want to say that I was seven or eight when I went through my Grouchy phase. I fell in love with hate. Or, to be more precise, with the word "hate." If my mom informed me that it was time to take a bath, I would gleefully reply that "I hate baths." Unfortunately, each time I uttered the word I would receive a recrimination. I protested that Grouchy Smurf used the word too, but I sadly overestimated the cachet Grouchy held with my parents. Having no other defense at my disposal, I allowed my will to be eroded, and the "h-word" was dropped from my vocabulary.

But it was not entirely eradicated. It went through a period of latency, before emerging over a decade later, when I was a college student. I can clearly recall the exact moment of the re-awakening. I was on the way to a concert with a group of friends. Lyrics were being discussed, and one person commented on a line that he "loved." Without skipping a beat, another person murmured "I hate that line." I suppose the influence this moment had on my life is a good argument for restricting avenues of peer pressure on teen-agers. The word "hate" returned to my vocabulary with a vengeance. Yet rather than employ it as it is traditionally used, I embraced an ironic tweak. I followed the true spirit of Grouchy's intent--I used it to get on people's nerves. For example, if somebody mentioned an affinity for the movie Event Horizon, I would invariably say "I hate Event Horizon" (even though I had never seen the film). Eventually I got to the point where I amused myself by expressing loathing for everyday objects one would usually find hardly worth the effort of despising ("I hate napkins").

However, though I was free of the tyranny of my parents censorship, I curiously found myself once again facing recriminations for my use of this word. People who wouldn't blink at all manners of profanities and vulgarities would bristle at my casual use of the word. More than one told me that "hate is a strong word." I came to the realization that for many people, the word "hate," even devoid of context, is assumed to have some kind of power, and to use the word without a full appreciation of the power is to commit an offense.

I think this goes back to the primitive notion that words themselves can have incantatory powers. It's possible, then, that those who chided me for employing the word subconsciously feared that I was carelessly invoking a curse. While this might seem on the surface to be a terribly fearful outlook on life, it actually strikes me as more comforting than the alternative. If we can conjure up power by simply uttering a few syllables, that's one thing. But what if we can't? What if, in order to actually accomplish something of note, to move somebody to feel a certain way, to persuade, to arouse, to inspire, mere incantations aren't enough? What if we need to establish a context for our words, and then painstakingly parse our words, fuse our words, re-work our words, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate our words, and then finally hold them up for public consumption without the certainty that they contain any magic whatsoever?

I suppose it would be easier to shovel. And I hate that.

2 Comments:

Blogger Nicki W. said...

Hi Azor, I love this post. Words can be very powerful but hate is no different that any other word. It is the intent with which the word is used. I think it is because our society tries to teach us not to hate that the actual word itself becomes forbidden. I was always told I didn't hate something, but disliked it. No, if I use hate, I mean hate. I think some people don't understand the intent of the word and that is what is misunderstood about language. How many of the people who told you they hated winter would actually miss it? Especially if they love a white Christmas. Maybe it is just easier to say they hate winter, when they are really just frustrated with it?

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Bah Humbug. I hate Batman and Robin.

10:10 AM  

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