Search

Ladder Language



My grandfather was many things. Most importantly, he was a grandfather (a thing many grandfathers forget to be). By trade and education, he was an electrical engineer, which intensified his predisposition of looking at things, which was most often always in terms of what some thing’s function is.


After the second world war, he gained employment with RCA and climbed his way up Marconi’s ladder to an executive rung. Language was a special “system” to my grandfather. A system so special that, in my mind, I can’t fathom he employ it to consciously ask himself with words the words: “Am I fulfilled?”


If there were a little stone of dissatisfaction growing next to his aorta, a little thing that kept him up at night, I imagine he prevented its maturing by becoming an adjunct Shakespeare professor (minimally to pose something like the above question in iambic pentameter).


Just as he demanded most things, language too should function efficiently—making grammatical correctness a high priority. Consequently, more than a decade after his death, what I most yearn for is not a morning with fishing poles praying for protein above the water or for an afternoon of gingersnaps with war stories next to a fireplace, but, rather, for the following dialogue to ensue:


Pop: You are not further from it you are farther from it.


Me: There’s no such thing as grammatical correctness.


Pop: Rubbish!


Me: What is the function of language?


(Pop clears throat, signifying passing of time)


Me: I’ll tell you what the function of language is, the function of language is to communicate!


It is the last part of that last line that I would have etched onto my gravestone: The function of language is to communicate! Even if I change my mind, and get cremated, a vase is just as worthy of a thing for an epitaph.


I have spent six years at the college level studying the humanities—and it is not from the exposure to theories sprinkled down on me from university podiums that brought me to my epitaph—the most important thing I’ve learned—but my work through the humans at Broad Ripple High School.


It is there where language gets the most economy because it is a place where someone needs to communicate. It is a place where language is still functional because sticks, stones, and names break bones just as easily as falling from the top of an abstract ladder.


Nicholas Willy is a graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program.