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  • Writer's pictureJak

The way we use language - and how it is changing

On a recent hiking expedition, with a group of middle schoolers, I overheard them direct one another to go "downstairs" whilst we were on the mountain. Now, anyone who has spent any time on the mountains, in Korea, could be forgiven for thinking that was a perfectly apt instruction. However, there were no stairs (not even a single step) in sight.

What lay before the group was a simple downward slope.

I paid it no heed.

Then, throughout the week, I heard the word "downstairs" used repeatedly to refer to any occasion where we made a descent.


Two weeks later, I was on another expedition with a similarly aged group. This time we we were kayaking and rafting. The weather was pretty foul by most people's standards.

To help the children find a more buoyant perspective, I encouraged the children to appreciate the "cinematic" atmosphere on the river.

My choice of the word "cinematic" was my attempt at precision. I wasn't picking my words for my audience.


Upon reflection of what I'd said, and how the children spoke about downhill trails, I found it very odd that in both instances we were using descriptors of artificial constructs in order to relate to natural occurrences. Surely things should go the other way around, but most of these kids spend nearly all of their lives in the city; they need the language of the urban in order to contextualize the natural.

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