Who owns language? Who may fiddle with it? Who may re-make it in his/her own image?

A friend of mine says that he’s a Language Constable; a stickler for by-the-book grammar, syntax, punctuation. This is where I smilingly draw the line. Lace ’em up, oh language fascists—we’re goin’ a coupla rounds.

With an affectionate nod to my friend, I am—and shall continue to be—a proponent of what I am from here on going to call “Owned Language”: That is to say, language owned by the writer. And by the reader. Not by the grammarians.

There turns of phrase, word combinations, sentence fragments or even punctuations innovated by the writer…are they valid modes of expression?

Were they for James Joyce? You tell me.

Owned Language possesses the “ahahhhh” factor: that mysterious, eye-opening ability to evoke a previously unknown combination of sounds or rhythms or ideas. It alters the pace of the reader’s eye, an entity notoriously accustomed to the easy, effortless approach to language that soon becomes wallpaper.

Does the reader have to work harder, sometimes, to get it? Perhaps. Are writers necessarily here to make things easy on them. No, not necessarily.

Do I believe in this principle without reservation? Here’s where I punk out. Owned Language takes a certain amount of skill. It is not sloppy. Or self-indulgent. Or an excuse for writing without thinking. The classic brain dump doesn’t count as owned language. Nor do disgusting rants. Or unfathomably obtuse ramblings. If the “ahahhhh” or the “yessss” is missing, perhaps we as writers are obliged to work a bit harder.

Owned Language. You’ll notice that I am not including examples here. That’s deliberate. Much more interesting for you if you have your eye out for those wondrous oddities without my help, yes?

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