Personal Services Classified: The Erogenous Zone

     I’ve not in this blog yet introduced, so I believe anyway,  one aspect of language use that needs some attention as well as some defining.

       We are pretty well aware of such aspects of the theory and practice of language as syntactics (what may also be called “grammar” and has to do with how words are combined into sentences, the primary building blocks of language) and semantics (how meaning is expressed via the denotation and connotation of words, the combinations of words, tone and pitch and volume, body language, and so forth).

     In this post I would like to spend some time considering the theory of speech acts, pragmatics (how in a particular context of real communication language is shaped or governed by the interrelationship of the speaker(s) and listener(s) involved.

       This theory typically is built upon five levels or registers of discourse (Martin Joos developed this theory at length decades ago in a book titled “The Five Clocks”): from intimate to formal.  “Intimate,” for example, would include talks between lovers, between children and parents, and such as that.  “Formal,” at the other end of the scale, would include such speech acts as Commencement speeches and sermons.  One such that will get worldwide attention will be the Inauguration Address of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

    In between these would be such speech acts as casual, deliberative, and consultative.  And please note that all those who study and describe these categories use only spoken language as the basis for definitions and examples.

       Lately, I’ve been struck in casually reading the “Personal Services” classifieds in “The New York Review of Books” as to how widely and seductively the writers of the ads cast their words out.  They come at you like a net trying to get a “fish” that might help meet one or more of their evident needs: whether it be making money, finding companionship, or satisfying erotic urges.

         One realization I’ve come to is that intellectuals who read and write (or otherwise create) may be both lonely and also quite aggressive in seeking satisfaction from others.  (We do know, don’t we, that people who read a great deal are more active physically than those who read a little or maybe not at all?)

      Ads I’ve found in recent issues of “NYRB” (I hasten to add that I read these primarily as a scholar of language usage) that these ads have sometime peculiar intentions but also a passionate undercoating (one can almost hear the heavy breathing behind the composing of the ads).

Here are three examples (note that shorthand via acronyms is common in such ads, saving both space and money) that you might wish to study and comment upon as to their efficacy as “speech acts,” even though in printed form:

(1) AFFECTIONATE, SENSUOUS WOMAN OF LETTERS, slender DJF, loves foreign flics and classical music, seeks successful, caring “mensch” (55-65) for good times, good talk, and whatever comes of these. NYC (212) xxx-xxxx.

(2) SINGLE, SMART, PHYSICALLY ACTIVE DC-based artist/activist looking for fun, companionship with smart, 50-65 NS good guy.  I enjoy travel, hiking, reading, films, spending time with good friends.  Energetic, interesting, and very good company.  Looking for LTR. (301) xxx-xxxx.

(3)  SHORT, CRANKY, MIDDLE-AGED GUY with no money seeks F for adventures in Iowa, Italy, France, or Scandinavia.  Absolutely no Republicans! <www.crankyxxx.xxx)

One initial reaction: placers of such ads as these don’t seem so much to be desperate housewives or thwarted Lotharios as they are self-promoters and campaigners.

What do you think?

RJR

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