In this series, we examine the wisest, most insightful, and profound Twitter musings of our favorite Ivy scholars who also happen to play basketball.
The line between a brilliant idea and an obvious one is tenuous. You can chase a supposedly smart thought around your brain only to look up and realize that
somewhere you crossed the line into stupidity. It happens all the time, and this week it happened to Harvard freshman Wes Saunders.
The nature of language has long fascinated scholars like Wes: how does air manipulated by our mouths into sound waves transform into meaning? How is this the case in every corner of the word? Linguistics, which served as a launching point for the careers of such luminaries as Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, brushes up against every discipline from philosophy to sociology. It is so fundamental to our lives that we hardly ever think about it. Thankfully, we have Wes to remind us of language’s awesome power.
Still, I think Wes may have made that classic mistake of thinking about a word too hard. “Tongue” really is not that funny, or at least any stranger than the 200,000 or so other words that English-speakers comprehend by the miracle of language. If “tongue” were spelled “tung,” for instance, nothing at all about the word would be especially remarkable. Still, tongue is the perfect word to overanalyze. The way that “toooooongue” hangs on Saunders’ own tongue underscores the disconnect between sound, meaning, and object.
You might argue that Wes’ tweet approaches stupidity at this point, but his hashtag totally redeems it. After breaking down the word into its most elemental state (sound), he profoundly attaches a pound sign to it. In doing so, he reattributes all of the conventions and formalities of language to the word. If you’ve ever tried to explain what a hashtag means, then you know all of the layers of nuance that it involves. The meaning of hashtags extends about as far as possible beyond simple sound; it relies not only on a strict definition but also on cultural and social connotations. In this way, “#tongue” is such an extreme derivative of “tongue” that it hardly means the same thing. This seismic shift in focus is almost as if Saunders has pushed through the microscopic level of language (“toooooongue”) only to emerge on the galactic view of communication (“#tongue”).
Clearly, Wes is operating on another wavelength. He should fare well on his finals.