Thursday, October 4, 2007


(Journal Entries from the War of Words)

The attack came upon us at night. Our enemy gave no warning; the weapon was terrible and malicious: a fungus that spread upon our land, destroyed our similes, and left our metaphors stunted and gnarled. We awoke to a morning that was honey in an old boot and we all felt like we didn't know what.

# #

I had enlisted at the first rumblings of hostilities. I was in training at the time of the declaration of war. I joined my fellows on the parade grounds to hear the words of our famous general, who would lead us in the conflict to come.

The general said to us, "The enemy has us on the spaghetti but we are not yet down for bunting. The enemy is a rancid bar of soap; the enemy is a vile turnip. Against all conventions of modern warfare he has resorted to LMW, linguistic and metalogical warfare. The simile fungus is only the first bald attack on our very principles of thought. But we must persevere, for we are the tassels of freedom and the kernels in the jam of liberty. We will crush the enemy" He paused, a tear rolled down his cheek. " we were meant to do," he finished.

Our eyes also glistened at the valor of his speech. We rose to attend to our tasks. We would give the enemy what for.

# #

The enemy enjoyed a natural advantage over us: we had never been good at manipulating languages other than our own. Therefore our initial attempts to retaliate lacked sophistication. Still, we counterattacked with vigor. We seeded enemy nouns with virus. We devised chemicals to defoliate adjectives. Soon our enemies' language became blunt, yet ambiguous.

My own first task is ordinance and supply. In previous wars we hoarded scrap metal and string; we rationed gasoline. Saboteurs attacked our production lines. Radicals attempted to induce terror with bombs in public places. Now we lose whole portions of our syntax. Our metaphysics suffers. Citizens fear the increased entropy of language. Depression often follows aphasia. Some of our people will suicide. My task is to alleviate this. We must find new sources of language, new stores of rhetorical construction. Our linguogeneticists crossbreed languages, in hopes of finding resistant idioms. A Spanish-Yiddish hybrid seems very hardy. Limericks in Urdu are immune to all of the enemies' weapons but prove difficult to work into conversation.

An excited phone call informs me of an important breakthrough. Old pulp detective novels may be processed to yield emergency stocks of simile and metaphor cuttings for grafting purposes. Production can begin immediately.

# #

The war of nerves continues, here far behind the front lines. I watched a scene of heroism this morning. An unexploded anagram bomb was defused by a rookie whose sole past experience consisted of doing double acrostics in the Sunday Times. Above the scene a billboard inveighed, "Destroy all puns! They are the first wedges in an invidious enemy assault!"

I have heard that several virulent rumors have escaped from a special P-4 containment laboratory. The word is that the religious fanatics have infiltrated the telecommunications industry. Telephone stocks plummets. There are claims that subliminal receivers have been found in Mickey Mouse telephones. The Disney Company denies involvement, but is later victim of a stock takeover that is itself a byproduct of complex bargaining between Unisys and BurgerQuick. Telephone repairmen in fast food restaurants come under suspicion for a time, but emergency supplies of anti-fiction and fact substitutes reduce the epidemic to manageable proportions.

# #

I have been transferred to military intelligence. My first assignment (about which I can say little) involved the investigation of a suspected sabotage in the secret ablative dreadnought project. For reasons which are still classified, all work on the dreadnought was to be in Latin. Older Catholics formed the bulk of the workforce. Suspicion has fallen upon a Greek.

# #

This observer is now reporting from the front lines. Conditions have deteriorated baldly. Things are not going well. A new anti-personnel gas has been used; the effect is one involving the destruction of personal initiative and self image. This is accomplished by means of an insidious attack on mood. One of the first symptoms is a loss of the active voice and an over-reliance on transitive verbs. Personal pronouns may slip unnoticed from one's vocabulary. This observer has been temporarily afflicted. One's thoughts and words soon begin to sound like technical reports and bureaucratese, all remnants of humanity deleted, all personality expunged. It is enough to give one the creeps.

# #

The limerick mercenaries have been mobilized. The Gertrude Stein Brigade has returned to active duty. Each new infusion of personnel is but a temporary respite. Casualties are heavy; many are walking wounded unable to speak save word salad and reshuffling of the last words of Dutch Schultz. How much longer must we hold out?

# #

In the dark of night
The haiku commandos came
To light our spirits.

# #

The enemy attacked with metric prose. With anapest and dactyls. They attacked us with rhyme. They attacked us with allusion and alliteration.

Our courage met the challenge. We withstood their short choppy sentences. Our lines held firm even during the attack of the subordinate clauses. We advanced. Their secondary defenses, long involved syntactical constructs, dense, repetitive and redundant (armored with parenthetical commentary) were used in a pincer movement along with a battalion of subjunctive verbs, to protect their exposed flanks and to give their artillery a chance to retreat, during which maneuver numerous booby traps and ambushes were prepared, traps with tempting bait to ensnare the more adventurous and foolhardy of our commanders.

Far too may of these traps found prey. The carnage was appalling.

# #

Into the valley of anastrophe rode the six hundred.

# #

At one point a bee flew by. I could not name its sound. All our precious onomatopoeia had gone for the production of artillery shells and bombs.

"Whoom!" came the sound of shelling in the distance. "Keewang! Rattatatat, Kerblow!" Concussions from the fighting reached my ears like cement blocks in a mixmaster, to use the best simile available to me.

# #

The war may be over soon. We have unleashed a secret weapon, which creates a zone of complete linguistic nothingness. The key element of the weapon is a distillate known as Babel-toxin.

We have commissioned an elite corps of commandos, who think visually rather than verbally. These brave and lonely soldiers are capable of functioning in the Zone: chess players, theoretical physicists and comic book readers. They have penetrated deep into enemy territory. We have severed their supply lines. The enemy is speechless.

# #

With no small joy we have observed the litotes bushes, once more in flower down by the littoral shores of our literal sea.

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