Ghostwriter or ghost writer? Who cares, right? Tut tut.
To be honest, I thought I knew – one word, ghostwriter because that is what was established. Andrew Crofts says ghostwriter, Wikipedia says ghostwriter and in the kids’ TV series, the character of Ghostwriter ‘can communicate with the kids only by manipulating whatever text and letters he can find and then using them to form words and sentences,’ quite a thing to do really – manipulate words, and this seems to be what happens with language, and in many different complicated ways. But is this manipulation of the word from one to another wrong or natural? In the 2010 film by Roman Polanski “The Ghost Writer”, a ‘British ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is hired to complete the autobiography of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).’
I wanted to know what I was, what my job is called – and I still do. Consulting my SEO engineer ‘Steve’, more people are in fact looking to find a ‘ghost writer’ than a ‘ghostwriter’, so is my changing ghostwriter to ghost writer to appear more ‘there’ on the Google rankings the thing to do or is this me ‘re-writing’ the word to accommodate a mis spell? To understand this, we need to understand what language is. Or maybe Polanski just knew how to spell ghostwriter and ghostwriters the world over have been wrong all along? How does change happen? What is the English language?
The continued borrowing and mixing is the story of language. It is the same story of evolution… the mixing of forms with other forms. Modern English has found itself at sea with both European languages and visitors from more foreign shores. As a result, English contains a large vocabulary, approximately 250,000 words, all based on a mixing.
Let’s say that Polanski was wrong, and that it is as Andrew Crofts says that it is, ‘ghostwriter’, then my changing to ghost writer is as I have mentioned, the result of me adapting to the preferred nomenclature, but this is not wrong because of the way that language changes? Going back to the fundamentals, we use language to interpret information, but when language is changed or manipulated – does that not mean that the information is not also… manipulated? Or perhaps Google is mapping the words ghost and writer separately and then offering those results back to me in suggestion that ‘people are in fact looking for ghost writer’ when they are looking for ghosts and/or writers independently of one another. Is then, my playing into this as a discussion and picking it all apart not adding layers of misinterpretation into the Google organism? Should I be in service to Google? Or in service to language?
Life is changing and we can see this by watching the speed in which languages become extinct, ones we may upon rudimentary reflection consider less relevant in an English speaking world. In 1891, industrialist Andrew Carnegie ‘congratulated the graduates of the Pierce College of Business for being “fully occupied in obtaining a knowledge of shorthand and typewriting” rather than wasting time “upon dead languages.”’ But if language holds information and we need that information to evolve, is this not a contradiction in terms? Mirroring biodiversity and all of life’s systems, ‘just as ecosystems provide a wealth of services for humanity – some known, others unacknowledged or yet to be discovered – languages, too, are ripe with possibility,’ says Rachel Nuwer for the BBC in ‘Languages: Why we must save dying tongues’. Because some languages are born out of very specific environmental habitats over many thousands of years, some languages have words for things that English does not – and so if they become lost, they are no longer able to provide the specific information for things, the properties of a plant or the description for the way a mountain is shaped.
Britain’s favourite polymath, Stephen Fry has one subject he wishes to explore, more than any other – language. Perhaps because he understands why it is the key that opens the door into the deep vaults of secrets – the answers to the fundamental questions, and how language can shape reality and the world experience we are involved in. Whereas some of us may think language is nothing more than a tool to use to get something done; to order a takeaway or to scream across a field to pass a ball, Fry knows of its greater power, not just as a method of communication but something more, and specifically the English language – the system of communication I am using to write this blog and that you are using to decode and interpret the meanings of every – word – I – type. For Fry and many others language holds a much greater and important totality than just a piece of communication apparatus criticus, but actually has the ability to evolve us as a species. Not that we may have realised, as it comes so naturally to us but this ‘extraordinarily sophisticated system of communication… uses more brain processing than any single other thing we do, whether it’s music or art or chess or mathematics or any other high functioning, high cognitive operation, language is the thing that uses most.’ One primary question I pose in my work is ‘the primary question that most people are interested in in language… whether or not the word is the parent of the thought – or if the thought is the parent of the word…’, this question needs attention because if the thought is the parent of the word and the word is manipulated, changed, removed, is then not the thought?
No book, blog or discussion on language is ever complete without citing and reflecting on the works of the great George Orwell, and speaking in Covent Garden, Fry reminds us of the roman à clef literary master and one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century. ‘That’s how good newspeak is,’ Fry says, ‘you can take out words like freedom… choice… and if the words disappear from the dictionary… Orwell argued… then maybe the words will disappear from human thought.’ In science fiction novels and movies, big totalitarian mechanised computer authorities have often reduce language, and in turn ‘thought’ to a very narrow band. But what if this reduction was something human beings were instrumental in mechanising? Are we doing it to ourselves? Ghostwriter, ghost writer.. GW? One may only need to re-read the last, ‘hey… sup?’ SMS text message they sent to consider the possibility that our own language is being reduced via this mergence between man and machine and perhaps compare these messages with the letters our grandparents would write one another. We are, it appears, actively reducing our vocabulary through computer language that is more efficient, automated, systematic and immediate and this phenomenon does not seem to be reflective of the word evolution, growth, or progress.
In a post-modern world where Humanities departments throughout our institutions are looking to replace the Western canon with pictures of teddy bears, because they are works produced by ‘Western men’, we are obligated to study language, its power and read the canon. Between us starting that and ending, we would have integrated into something deep and meaningful – and we will have understood why things change, what they are and how language can be used to strengthen or weaken. Ghostwriter or ghost writer doesn’t really matter, but it is a window into a discussion that is the relevant one. Social engineers are well aware of this – that the pen is mightier than the sword.