Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Here’s To Livingry

A Brief Meditation On Words

Language is redolent with power relations. Yet people are also everyday wordsmiths who can construct frames and memes. Sometimes the power of a discursive frame is indicated not just by what words are used, but by what words are not used.

It is reflective of our state of affairs, for example, that there is currently no word for ‘non-violence’ in English, aside from the cover-all term ‘peace’, that is not defined as a negation i.e. with ‘non’.

As activists and scholars and participants in linguistic frames, we often have to come up with our own vocabulary rather than imbibe words and their attendant meanings derived from the prevalent militarist power structure.

Even simple idioms we use everyday can be illuminating and illustrate how we deploy rather violent images to ascribe metaphoric meaning to even innocuous activity. There are a plethora of common sayings:

  • taking a stab in the dark” — taking a chance
  • many ways to skin a cat” — doing things by different means
  • killing two birds with one stone” — doing two things with one act
  • Earth-shattering” — momentous or climactic

More examples:

  • bombshell” — a weighty piece of news or an attractive female — also “drop-dead gorgeous”
  • went ballistic” — angry reaction
  • you’re killing me” — mirth (!) or pressure
  • even grammar: an oblique stroke ( / ) is now more commonly called a ‘slash‘ (I was always taught stroke)

Whilst they may seem to be small matters in apparently singular examples, I think there is ample evidence that our language does implicitly privilege and elevate the vocabulary of war and violence.

How can we evolve past reflexively using violence to best convey action, gravity, desire or resolve?

While we all know the more overt instances of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ as a news “value” in the mainstream media, our movies too reveal and reflect these values. Though I can not remember who said it, it is a trenchant observation that a movie may be in line for receiving an “X” rating for a character erotically kissing a breast, yet only an “R” for chopping one off. Gratuitous violence all too easily gets a pass but erotic tenderness is apparently too subversive.

There are a few glimmerings of promise, however, and I came across an enchanting word recently from Buckminster Fuller, the ‘Dymaxion American’, he who coined the term ‘spaceship earth’.

The word that caught my attention is LIVINGRY.

For Fuller, livingry is juxtaposed to weaponry and killingry and means that which is in support of all human, plant, and Earth life.

“The architectural profession–civil, naval, aeronautical, and astronautical–has always been the place where the most competent thinking is conducted regarding livingry, as opposed to weaponry.” — Critical Path, page xxv

It is apt that Fuller mentions the architectural profession, for in a sense we are all architects, and it is within our grasp to build up a vocabulary of sustainability, pluralism, miribilia and enchantment.

As language both informs as well as reflects social behaviour, our wor(l)ds contribute to a currency of better relations surely yet imperceptibly. Far from being wishy-washy, words have power and thoughts have wings.

We recall from the Upanishads:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Like Fuller, we can each be wordsmiths in creative and innovative ways. A friend has long liked describing himself as gruntled, for example, but my favourite has to be one describing the horizontal tango. Offended by the contrived conjoining of sex and violence, it is of course far better to light a candle (in this case, coin a phrase) than to curse the darkness.

Next time your lover asks, tell them it was Earth-unifying.

11 comments on “Here’s To Livingry

  1. DetainThis
    19 March, 2009

    It may take a while for livingvry to work its way into the flow, but it makes sense.

    Someone can be said to have “made a killing” in the course of “making a living.” Or they made a living by constantly making a killing. This seems an apt way to sum up governments.

  2. Ann
    19 March, 2009

    And arms manufacturers, in the literal as well as metaphorical sense. Thanks, DT, a well-noted one.

  3. Curtis
    21 March, 2009

    As a dedicated Sapir-Whorfist, I concur that ‘livingry’ is a wonderful word. Perhaps a first name like ‘Buckminster’ lends itself to coming up with things like that.

    ‘Slash’ must be an Americanism that has spread by tech osmosis, dang it, because I’ve never heard a / referred to as a ‘stroke.’ So are ‘backslashes’ really ‘backstrokes?’ If so, I’m awfully glad I don’t have to \ it all the way to Australia to read wonderful writing like this.

  4. Ann
    21 March, 2009

    :D Yes, I wonder how many Buckminster’s there are out there — a fascinating character and would that there were more refreshing iconoclasts like this.

    As we are both Sapir-Whorfists, perhaps you would consider supporting the cause of reviving the ‘stroke’? (I’ve just learned its also been called other terms, including —reflecting its origins—the French virgule).

    Btw, \ is my favourite swim stroke. :-) Thanks for the kind words.

  5. fencer
    29 March, 2009

    Livingry! What a great word… and I am some kind of a Fuller fan and never heard of it.

    I agree with you about the implicit violence in much of our culture and the way we speak, especially the glorification of war which crops up often. At the same time, though, words and phrases like those you cite seem to be often more for dramatic impact rather than violent. “Bombastic” exaggeration for emphasis… Part of our furious need to get attention, I suppose.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, again.


  6. Ann
    30 March, 2009

    Good point, Fencer. I guess I was thinking that though they are indeed mostly used and intended for dramatic effect as you point out, this seems to serve as a linguistic Trojan Horse of importing epistemic violence without our hardly noticing. We’ll have made progress, I think, if living more sustainably and peaceably is seen as imbued with dramatic gravity as well, perhaps?

    I’m also getting to be a Fuller fan and would love to learn more about his work and writing. Thanks for coming by.

  7. thepoetryman
    30 March, 2009

    Hello, Ann…

    I loved this post.

    “Livingry”! A wonderful word.

    I’m livingry one day at a time.

    Ann, this was a very lovingry post…

  8. Ann
    31 March, 2009

    What a marvelous word, Mark, very inspired! Love it. Thanks for stopping by. This was just a second iteration of some thoughts I originated posted at your excellent The Peace Tree, btw.

  9. thepoetryman
    31 March, 2009

    Ooops. I meant to write “…a very lovely post…” :>)

  10. Ann
    1 April, 2009

    Ha! Best “mistake”-word I’ve seen. :)

  11. Miche
    10 April, 2009

    Ann, Baby,

    Please get with me! I had to replace my laptop and haven’t your email addy saved anymore. Through the email addy you have or SKYPE.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on 19 March, 2009 by in Culture, Language, Militarism, Words and tagged .

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"