How to Break and Rebuild Things

Taking apart a clock (and language) requires patience and finesse.In the first Tomb Raider film, Lara Croft finds a clock that contains a clue. Her butler decides to dismantle the clock piece by piece, screw by screw. He creates a diagram and numbers each piece. He wants to put the clock back together after he finds the clue.

Croft has no patience; she takes a hammer to the clock in order to retrieve the clue, the “all-seeing eye.” She doesn’t care about rebuilding the clock. She has other things, notably thoughts of the Illuminati and of her father, pressing on her mind.

Language is similar to that clock. It can be taken apart and rebuilt in the same way. It can be pulverized until nothing of that language remains except for a few articles here and there. It also can be taken apart and rebuilt as something new.

It’s the third option that perhaps holds the most fascination. Repeating what has been done in the past does no good; it’s repeating history and mistakes. The point of history is to learn from it, not to repeat it. Yes, learning can come from copying, but eventually one must depart from copying and start creating. Destroying language doesn’t serve much of a purpose, either. How is one to learn or to attempt something new if the foundation itself has been destroyed?

No, to create something new – even if it isn’t really all that “new” – requires breaking language into its parts, then rebuilding it. It demands curiosity. What happens if a different word or punctuation mark is used? What is the effect of breaking a line? What difference does a dash or an ellipsis make? It does not ask for a hammer. It does not ask to be restored to what it once was. All it requests is a little bit of patience and a little bit of finesse.

Photo: Mike (CC BY 2.0)


  1. This was a great post and I hate it when we change the meaning of words to accommodate people who use them incorrectly.   The three biggies for me are, decimate (which used to mean to destroy 1 in 10, not massive destruction), peruse (which means to read thoroughly and for content, not skim), and enormity (which means extreme evil, not anything to do with size), but all three seem to be only used incorrectly and it is accepted.
    To me, it smacks of laziness. If I’m using a word incorrectly, I’d like to know. Of course, I like learning, maybe most people don’t. *shrug*