Dogmatic. Dogged determination. Dog dog dog. Why do these words have to include the word dog? Since when were dogs so opinionated or determined? Of course, I know that ‘dogmatic’, at least, is not etymologically linked to the word ‘dog’, however the connotations and images that these words generate in people’s minds, make them inadequate forms of expression.
I mean no disrespect to our quadrupedal friends, but no dogs I have met have seemed to hold particularly strong opinions (apart from an avid dislike of cats). Most appeared quite content to laze about and did not show the slightest determination to improve themselves. Certainly, they can be quite persistent, especially when it comes to stealing food from under the table or when asking to be stroked. But this cannot be classed as determination, because they do not seem to have a desire to progress onwards and upwards. A dog may simply wish that every day could be just as good as yesterday.
Humans, by contrast, tend to be much more ambitious and competitive in nature. They strive to prove themselves and achieve higher social status and recognition. Thus, perhaps it should be called ‘humanic determination’ rather than ‘dogged determination’. Humans also easily become attached to ‘dogmatic’ ideologies such as right-wing nationalism, because it may offer them clarity and a sense of control in an uncertain world. Thus, perhaps someone could create a word that better reflects the particular attraction to humankind of such modes of thinking.
In fact, the word ‘dogmatic’ is problematic for another reason. According to Google, the word ‘dogmatic’ means: ‘inclined to lay down principles as undeniably true’. However, the Greek word ‘dogma’ originally just meant ‘opinion’. An opinion may not be something we hold as undeniably true. We may offer up an opinion to someone and then later question this opinion. An ‘opinion’ is often contrasted with the word ‘fact’ and is regarded as less concrete. Yet, the word ‘dogmatic’ would imply that we take something to be a fact – to be absolutely correct. Thus, ‘dogmatic’ has over time has developed new layers of meaning that, arguably, are not wholly consistent with its core. My point is that we should take issue with the words we use and question whether they fully express the ideas we want to express. Essentially, we should abandon our rigid (dogmatic?) approach to language.
To take another short example, the word ‘pulchritude’. I mean who would ever guess, just by looking at this word, that it means ‘beauty’? As Zadie Smith’s book White Teeth suggests, this word sounds more like ‘it should signify a belch or a skin condition’. Of course, appearances are deceptive, and beauty cannot always be seen on the outside, but surely, we should be allowed to find words that are a more aesthetic match to what we are trying to express.
Writers should, as the title of this article suggests, b more creativ wiv langwidge and find ways of expression that better fit what they are trying to say. We should be able to play around with language – to ‘match-and-mix’ (or ‘max-and-mitch’) words as we please and not feel obliged to stick to prescriptive language norms. We can choose to stick two words to gether or create entirely new words. So please: let your creativity run as wild as a playful child or as dog, who has just been let off its lead.