Friday, August 21, 2009

"to be" or not "to be"....

I confess...this may make no sense outside my head. Not sure if I can put my thoughts "on paper" but they are rattling loudly in my head so I'd like to try.

I was watching people on the T platform and got caught in a bit of a linguistic game in my head. Let's consider these statements:
  • Sally is beautiful.
  • Sally is fat.
  • Sally is smart.
  • Sally has brown hair.
  • Sally has cancer.
  • Sally has killer abs.

Okay. Where do we draw the line between traits that where we use a "to be" word versus a possessive-like "to have"? It seems to me that linguistically the "to be" traits are being elevated to a different level. They define us. They ARE us. We can play with structure and turn some of the sentences into their "partners" ("Sally has a weight issue", "Sally is a cancer patient"), but it seems like one or the other is often more "natural" for us to use.

What do these distinctions say about our values? Are these distinctions consistent in other languages? In other cultures that share our language?

If you read this blog, you know I have a multitude of body issues and that's where this rattling thought started. Why is weight such a defining characteristic for us? If you were trying to describe me to someone looking for me in a crowd, my hair (long, dark, thick, frizzy mop that it is) would be the best way to tell them which woman I am...not the size on my jeans. So why not "Cheryl is long dark frizzy hair" (yes, you can say "Cheryl is a long-haired gal" but it isn't the normal construction).

On another note, I once wrote a blurb on myself and said "I am a lawyer." A woman wrote back that being a lawyer was my job, not WHO I was overall. But, in those days, it FELT pretty defining. Then again, one of my examples above is "Sally has cancer"...I bet that feels pretty darn defining too.

I don't have anywhere major I'm trying to go with this. But it is my concept to ponder for the moment.

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