Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Glorified small talk

< like to tell excellent stories. We all tell stories all the time, of course - how else would we weave together irreconcilable daily events into anything vaguely comprehensible? But there is a mystique in witnessing a great story; there is magic in the fabric of the language.

For me, language is the barrier between the mediocre stories that I tell, and the stunning stories I revere. I get stuck on language, caught up in it to the extent that I often sacrifice clarity. As my professors regularly comment, and as you too are likely to notice, my writing is chronically unclear. Sometimes I am fixated on a handful of words that I love so I force them in jaggedly, or I become obsessed with expressing an idea that later deviates from the revised claim. Or, I confess, perhaps my idea was never particularly strong to start with, but I just liked it as an aesthetic.

This is a profoundly selfish struggle that is probably inappropriate to deal with in such a public forum as this. Conveniently, it is also a way for me to introduce the general concept that I intend to confront weekly here, in this newspaper, for the next few weeks. Along with the ways in which language can both elucidate and obscure, I’m interested in small talk. I mean this in the very largest sense of the term, as in, not just the requisite conversations we have in passing, but the words, terms and expressions we use frequently and thoughtlessly. It seems that the repetition, and the commonness of our ordinary language depletes it, makes the language small. Yet there is something extraordinary about the words we say multiple times a day, hundreds of times a week, and the stories inside of them that remain unpacked.

As Hayden White notoriously asked, “Does the world really present itself to us in the form of well made stories?” Well, no, the world probably does not do that; but somewhere hidden between events and the way in which we recount them, language cleverly dupes us into believing in our seemingly coherent life narratives. So, as the story of another autumn at Carleton opens, I intend to devote this space to thinking about writing, about the stories embedded in the language we use daily: I’m going to glorify small talk.

Now, forgive me as I reluctantly climb my modest soap box, a place that seems like a necessary next step given my newly acquired “columnist” title. I hope that thinking intentionally about our words and our stories will inspire a more acute awareness about the words we choose, and the stories we tell; moreover, I hope that we can create dialogue about how we use those words, and how we tell these stories. Because through these mediums, even – if not, especially – in the nominal form of small talk, we craft an important version of ourselves. 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *