Cheryl Levi

The Death of Language

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Who can forget cracking open her first Dr. Seuss book? Who can fail to remember the giggles, the groans, the wonder, the rhyme, and the magical imagery?

Many of us started our experiments with the English language at a young age. The first moment I read Dr. Suess’s brilliant playful experiments with language to my children, I knew I was introducing them to the language I love.

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

Only a genius with language could come up with the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax, Sam I am, Horton, Biffer Baum Birds, Sneeches, and my personal favorite – Yertle the Turtle.  Theodore Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) use of language, rhyme, meter, alliteration, and imagery painted hilarious portraits of wondrous worlds in our minds.

The fact is, from time immemorial language has been experimented with by great writers and poets.  Poets like e.e. cummings made a point of manipulating the rules of grammar and diction.  He often flipped uppercase letters for lowercase ones and split words into different sections.

Take his poem “A Leaf Falls on Loneliness” which plays with the direction of the letters of the words that make up the poem.

l(a or (A leaf falls on loneliness)


As the individual letters of the leaf fall to the bottom of the page, we sense sorrow and loss.  The letters are separate from each other, standing alone, as so many of us are forced to do at certain points in our lives.  We can imagine the leaf’s sense of abandonment and tears. We can see it floating slowly to the barren field.  The word “loneliness” is the only word that does not fall in between the parentheses, marking it the center of the poem.  The falling leaf is taking part in the melancholy of loneliness.

The poem is a perfect example of an artist restructuring language in order to create something beautiful and poignant.

Unfortunately, historically language has been dissected and abused as well.  In the 1930’s and 40’s the Nazis made language a central aspect of their propaganda.  They misdirected, misinterpreted, and created new words and phrases in order to justify their crimes. We are all familiar with the Nazi dictionary.

final solution




These were once innocuous words and then they became poisoned by the Nazis’ ideology.  Jews were dehumanized by being labeled “rats”, “lice” and “cockroaches”.  Murder was justified with the phrase “ethnic cleansing”.  The process of murdering Jews was labeled “the final solution” lending it a sense of practicality: Jews are the problem; This is the solution. The Nazis were brilliant propagandists, and language became their tools.

Pro-Palestinians on college campuses and the streets of major cities have learned well from the Nazis.  Suddenly the phrase “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”, which has been used as a call to obliterate Jews has become a call for freedom.  The terms “apartheid” “colonizers” and “oppressors”  have been targeted at the nation that has been victims of apartheid, colonization, and oppression for centuries.  The term “diversity, equity, and inclusion” has come to represent a racist ideology where white men are evil, and people of color are all good despite their philosophies and behavior.  Terrorists are labeled “victims” and victims are labeled “terrorists”.  The play on language has become vicious and deadly to the extent that one of the most innocent victims of this movement is language itself.

One of the things that hurts me most about the Pro-Palestinian movement is the misuse of language to incite, hate and violence.  Language is supposed to be beautiful.  It’s supposed to help us communicate, not cut one group off from another.  When used artistically, it’s supposed to portray vivid images of reality and unreality in our minds.  When utilized creatively, it’s supposed to inspire us to see the beauty in what is around us and the emotions embedded within us.

It is the misuse of language for the acquisition of power that bloodies the propaganda war of the Pro-Palestinian movement. We have come down a very dark path since the wonder of Dr. Seuss and the ingeniousness of e.e. cummings.  It is up to our teachers, journalists,  writers, and poets to protect and restore the dignity and beauty of our language once again.  I just wonder if we are up to the task.

About the Author
Cheryl Levi is a writer and a high school English teacher who lives with her family in Bet Shemesh, Israel. She has a master's degree in medieval Jewish philosophy and has written numerous articles about faith crisis in Judaism. Her book, Reasonable Doubts, was published in 2010.