Bread and Change

The rhythm and pulse of a community are expressed in speech. To speak that language in that tempo is part of what it means to belong. As a young girl bemoaning her lack of southern accent, I’m pretty sure I attempted to express this sentiment more than once. That being said, John Steinbeck does it so much more eloquently in Travels with Charley. Take a look:

Just as our bread, mixed and baked, packaged and sold without benefit of accident or human frailty, is uniformly good and uniformly tasteless, so will our speech become one speech.

I who love words and the endless possibility of words am saddened by this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless….What I am mourning is perhaps not worth saving, but I regret its loss nevertheless.

Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days…and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better. But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us. The lines of change are down. We, or at least I, can have no conception of human life and human thought in a hundred years or fifty years. Perhaps my greatest wisdom is the knowledge that I do not know. The sad ones are those who waste their energy in trying to hold it back, for they can only feel bitterness in loss and no joy in gain. (83)

“The endless possibility of words” would be a beautiful motto. (On the other hand, “I do not know” would be a far more accurate one.)


One Response to Bread and Change

  1. […] I just want to know if the original “word wagon” researchers had read Travels with Charley… Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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