What’s the word for when you receive new information that alters your way of thinking? In particular, for when you thought things were one way, expected them to be that way, but the new information surprises you.
I used to think it was the word frisson, but that word (from the French, “to be cold”) refers to the pleasant thrill shiver you experience at the awards ceremony just before they open the envelope that might contain your name. Or when you watch a horror movie (assuming you like watching horror movies).
That’s not quite what I mean. There is—at least for me—some thrill shiver associated with learning a new and surprising thing, but I need a word that focuses more on the sense of realignment that occurs to your worldview.
There is also the word bemused, which is a fancy and perhaps milder way of saying confused or bewildered. (And don’t confuse bemused and amused. Being bewildered is bemazing not amazing!)
But bemused isn’t quite what I want, either. The information doesn’t confuse so much as adjust your thinking. It’s that, “Ah Ha!” moment when you realize something you’ve thought for a long time was wrong, and now those memory cells need to be over-written with the new information.
It’s like when you’ve spent a long time thinking that word was “frisson,” because you remember reading it described as such a long time ago. But then you go to write a blog article about frisson, so you look it up to verify its exact meaning…
Only to find you’ve been using it slightly wrong all these years!
So what’s the word I want; what’s the right word for this? A bit of browsing hasn’t turned it up yet, so the search is on. Suggestions encouraged and welcome!
In the meantime, from my memory files, here are two other times I experienced a sense of [fill in the blank].
A long, long time ago, in a life far, far away, I had one of those moments when you suddenly see the world from another viewpoint and realize there’s another way of looking of things that had never occurred to you. The moment was powerful enough to stick with me ever since.
I was at a large family holiday gathering; the sort where you meet relatives you didn’t know you had or, as in this case, meet new spouses (of relatives I didn’t know I had).
The spouse in question was (for all I know, still is) a professional linguist. “Ah, ha!” I thought. “Here’s a chance for some professional validation on a point that’s been bothering me, but which seems to not bother others.”
So I popped the question, “[As a professional linguist] Doesn’t it bother you how the language has devolved?”
The surprise answer was that, no it didn’t, because professional linguists study the language as it evolves. Linguistic evolution is neither “good” nor “bad”, it simply is.
Grammarians and English teachers (and many of us who hold language precious) may be concerned with proper use. We may deeply regret—even hate—how language devolves, but linguists study language as anthropologists study societies. Without judgement.
That was an eye-opener; the idea that one way to look at language is as a living thing that changes. The change is certainly different, but is it always necessarily bad? To be honest, despite the viewpoint shift, I still have to answer with a resounding yes!
To me, communication is an indicator of our humanity; it sets us apart from the animal kingdom. To me, the better you are at communicating, the more human prove yourself to be. More importantly, the cry of the inept or careless is often, “Well, you understood me, didn’t you?!”
Yes, maybe this time; maybe most times. But a time may come when the ability to communicate clearly, accurately and effectively will be very important. I think it’s a good idea to have the tools to do so when the need is crucial.
As an aside, the interweb is changing the world in big ways right now, and many of us (including yours truly) look at some of it with a great deal of concern. It seems clear that some bad things are happening right now, but perhaps we’re just in a time of change. Perhaps it all works out in the future.
Or perhaps not. Which brings me to…
There was also a time in college, when I read how Western culture likes stories with resolved and explained endings. Westerners, it claimed, like having everything laid out and explained. It went on to say that Japanese culture, among others, doesn’t mind unresolved or unexplained endings to stories.
Japanese readers don’t require everything explained; things can be just accepted. After all, life isn’t always explained or resolved. Why wouldn’t stories follow life? Stories, after all, are about life.
Is it that Western culture takes comfort from their stories? Is this new in our culture or has it always been a Western mode? (Was that text even correct? I’ve never researched this; it could be false!) Does the Puritanical origin of our culture play a factor? The original Grimm’s fairy tales were quite dark compared to the tales we spin for our children at bedtime. When did we begin living in such a sanitized society?
I’m reminded of 1950s TV shows where married couples had two beds. Or the Hays Code rule about actors on beds always having at least one floor on the floor. (Trust me on this (or experiment for yourself): even two feet on the floor is no limitation!)
As a society becomes more “civilized” does it attempt to hide its animal origins? We all pee, shit and sweat, yet these are the very things we seek to hide away, to mask with potions and tricks. We all fuck. If we didn’t, it would be the end of the race. We must all face the sometimes uncomfortable fact that our existence is proof positive that our parents fucked. Yet we are laughed at by many cultures for going to such great lengths to not talk about it.
Perhaps this is just another swinging pendulum. As we look back in history, we find eras that were both more open and more closed. The “roaring 20s” were famously as wild as anything we hippies came up with in the 60s.
But I have wandered off the point. Which is that I began to consider the idea of stories that didn’t explain themselves, that didn’t wrap things up in a nice neat bow. Despite the occasional complaints I’ve heard, isn’t Thelma & Louise a far better movie for ending exactly when it did?
America is still a young culture. Perhaps as cultures grow more mature, they leave behind their simplistic fairy tales and begin to dine on more sophisticated fare. Perhaps that’s true of individuals as well. I know I’ve come to appreciate unresolved mystery in my stories. And I definitely like it when stories surprise me by finding a new path through ancient fields.