KJ Hannah Greenberg

Microrhetoric’s Impact on Society

When we communicate, we tussle with images and symbols in an effort to keep pace with prevalent phonetic and semantic values. Respectively, the standards that we stay abreast of are “phonemes,” i.e., sound units, and “mememes,” i.e., ideas. Per the former, the “c” of “cat” and the “k” of “kitten” have the same significance. As specified by the latter, “young cat” and “kitten” have the same importance.

Phonemes and mememes sway our collective grasp of lexical fabrication. For instance, an advertisement might succeed in persuading us to buy a product if it substitutes “tonite” for “tonight” but not achieve the same ends if it replaces “sale” with “sail,” or “young women” with “chicks.” Despite our frequent yielding to innovative attractions, mostly, we don’t tolerant semantic “cleverness.” In addition, when we seek linguistic reliability, we can’t comprehend either type of container or the germinal procedures undergirding them without a framework (ironically, “rhetorical context,” per se, achieves its pull by defining restrictions on perspectives.)

By way of illustration, weigh how the microscopic structuring of expressions affects the scope and frugality of intellectual fertility. Viz., a verbalization, which sounds lovely when pronounced with a Southern drawl or with Scots phonology, might be perceived as coarse when spoken with a Coal Region twang or with a Cockney accent. Ponder, too, that whereas dry humor is often measured as highbrow, farce is just as regularly gauged as rubbish.

The same, the minutia that form the basic units of our utterances touch upon our proportional regard for them. Contemplate how: dissertation defenses ordinarily consist of detailed prosaic arguments, not Shakespearian couplets or acrylic collages; eulogies are usually built from epidictic passages, not Volcan mind meshing; and federal statutes are typically recorded, not issued by carrier pigeons.

Additionally, mull over the ways in which our attentiveness to our selections of microforms divides our community. Evidence communication journals’ and communication conferences’ jargon. Ironically, communication experts, people who allegedly devote themselves to fashioning alliances, purposefully construct morphological walls and then shrug off those barriers as being “mere” cognitive shortcuts. More exactly, such scholars largely define themselves by delegitimizing connotations forms as well as by availing themselves of grammar that’s at odds with freely available discourse.1

Yet, most of us shrug at the intentions and the transactions offered by the select few who mastermind our communal crossing points. Our willingness, meaning, our pragmatic prescriptions for contending with these anomalies, is found among accepted wisdoms, impacts our freedom and creativity, and alters our inclination to contend with aberrations.

[I]nsofar as [inventive deviancy] is a physical action in which one person’s [sensory] apparatus affects [that] of others here and now [original phonemes have] their connection with [mememes] available to the sense of the speaker and listener at the time of the action.2

In other words, doing nothing costs us more than something.

Purportedly, if a personage ranked “among the select few” identifies a tulip as a “buttercup,” the next time that a less sanctioned human see a tulip, for the sake of perpetuating public gist, they, too, will likely call it a “buttercup.” Observers, unless intentionally questioning that conveyance, won’t be confounded. This lack of far-reaching critical thinking is worrisome.

Simply, we might categorize cognitive associations as excessively value-laden or, conversely, as overly impassive. Nonetheless, as long as they affect our ordinary understandings and we don’t challenge the, they rule our orientations. In fact, select assemblages of words trigger us so extensively that many media now post warnings about the referents contained within the pieces that they broadcast.

For example, certain classes of violence, including incest, rape, combat injuries, and others, remain shame-based subjects, which, namely, we tend to avoid. What’s more, our social order, overall, appears adverse to responding to articulated coercion. It’s us who deem whistleblowing as “so yesterday” and who fail to move forward with the BLM or #MeToo movements. Our employment of specific  “nomenclature necessarily [directs our] attention into some channels rather than others.”3

Sadly, whereas we shy from dissonance-causing foci, we seem at ease with gossip about athletes, starlets, and business tycoons and give the impression that we have no difficulty lending our time and resources to exploitive dating and mating shows, biased newscasts, and balderdash about pet care. Truly, we’ve succumbed, as a civilization, to minutia of small worthwhile backing away from difficult, but important words and topics.

All in all, specialists tasked with crafting strategies for coping with our largely unencoded systems of sharing have barely succeeded. They need to lead us to discovery processes, to roads upon which we can receive answerability for our give-and-takes and, more precisely, to information about the consequences that we attach to the sounds of our common dealings and to the framing that we use for our thoughts.

As well, we, as individuals, necessarily must develop reservations about our verbal maneuvers; we ought to take responsibility for analyzing delivered word packets. After all, we can’t thrive as long as we’re able to talk about dish soap and shoe styles but not about family bonds or international peace policies.

By returning to interchanges’ sounds and core sensibilities, we ought to be able to free the vernacular from practices of valuation rigidity imposed upon it by privileged ambassadors. Toward that end, we ought to be able to enhance our ability to impart our positions, to enjoy more fully one of humankind’s greatest treasures.

  1. Karen Joy Greenberg. “Communication Ethics as Tolerance, Understanding, and Unity.” Ed. Karen Joy Greenberg. Conversations on Communication Ethics. Praeger. 1991, 96.
  2. David Burrows. Sound, Speech, and Music. U. Massachusetts P. 1990, 8.
  3. Kenneth Burke. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. U. California P, 1966, 45.
About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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