Religion Magazine

The 52 Hertz Church

By Richardl @richardlittleda

The lure of the linguistic ghetto

For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about the church’s use of language. It was already going round my head when I read Rob Hutton’s hilarious Romps, Tots and Boffins – a witty expose of the way the British press uses language. Hutton’s book made me realize that we often bend language to our own ends, and frequently allow archaic usage simply because it suits our purpose.

I find that the Christian church gets very enervated when ‘her’ language is used by other people. When a wannabe starlet says she is ‘praying’ for success in a talent show we bristle.  When a corporate giant talks about ‘outreach’ within the market we feel affronted. When a protester invokes the name of God for their cause, be it great or small, we resent it.

When these things happen we can do one of two things. Our first option is to agree to ‘share’ all this vocabulary with the world at large. If this is the path we choose, then we must accept the responsibility to articulate and explain what we mean by these words, even when it differs from other usage.  The alternative path is to retreat into some kind of linguistic ghetto, where our language becomes more and more specialised in order to protect what we see as its authenticity. Every time one of those specialised words is ‘adopted’ by the world outside the church we retreat just a little bit further into the cave. I wonder which option you feel we have pursued?

I was just contemplating all this when the story of ’52-hertz’ the whale broke on some of the news feeds this morning. Apparently scientists have been tracking this huge baleen whale since 1989. It has never had a partner nor been part of a family group during all that time. Researchers attribute this to the whale’s voice. Apparently it ‘sings’ at 52 hertz (about the pitch of the lowest note on a tuba), whereas other whales’ voices never go above the deep bass note of 20 hertz. Basically, he speaks the wrong language…



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