I finally got around to watching last year’s film, The King’s Speech.
I was rather delighted that such a film did so well at the box office; its climax is simply that the stuttering king was finally able to deliver a well-spoken radio address. No big battle scenes. No sexual intrigue. Just a struggle to overcome, supported by friends and family.
One of the themes that I felt most personally was the fact that the king was superbly articulate when he was angry and swearing. In fact, his therapist recommended interjecting profanity in order to help him maintain a proper pacing to his public speaking. It sounds a bit odd, but I have my own experience with a similar phenomenon.
I have lived overseas for several years and studied several languages. I have found that I am at my most fluent expression when I am yelling. I can remember clearly one particular time when my wife and I were in a taxi, and the driver was attempting to cheat us by setting the meter to a higher fare rate. We caught him in the act, and I lit into him like a native! Words were coming out of my mouth without first having to be composed in my mind (in English), then translated mentally, and then formed physiologically. Phonemes, morphemes, conjugated verbs…they all came spilling forth with startling rapidity. If only my language teachers could’ve seen me then!
What’s the truth here? Where does the eloquence of anger come from?
Is anger my (our) native language? It is more fundamentally hardwired into my thoughts and words to defend myself violently and aggressively, than to carry on a civil conversation with a neighbor?
Perhaps adrenaline is the key to fluent speech. Maybe there’s an innate need for justice and fairness, which erupts forth in verbal tirades when it is roused by a perceived affront. Or maybe I’m just a whiny, self-centered, ultimately defenseless infant, who has learned, when in doubt, to make a lot of noise and spill forth whatever language I’ve got command of in order to protect my interests.
We’re told that Satan’s native language is lying (John 8:44). Is my native language anger?
For the king, he derived strength, comfort, and rhythm from his spoken aggression. For me, there must be a better way.
Does anger work? Sometimes. The cheating taxi driver was willing to accept the proper fare from us (without ever directly admitting to any wrongdoing). But isn’t there a better source of self-expression? Even if anger, yelling, or swearing do form the building blocks of our native language, can we not grow and develop in order to express ourselves in a more upright way?
It is usually easy to judge whether or not communication is effective: if the listener understands and/or responds as desired, we label our speech successful. But was it proper? Was it uplifting? Life-giving? It seems far too common for us to take a purely pragmatic stance in our speech; we tend to say whatever works, whatever it will take to achieve the desired outcome.
Granted, the king didn’t swear aloud into the radio mic while delivering his speech, but he mouthed the words to himself, he thought them. Beyond my fluency at yelling in a foreign language, you should hear me when I’m having an aggressive internal conversation! The imaginary encounters, the verbal sparring matches that I have envisioned–in those, I am an undefeated champion.
But I can only claim this to my shame. The eloquence of anger is bred into me by my human nature.
Young children often find great fun in learning swear words in another language. But those that study, practice, and master a foreign tongue can become poets. They can think, compose, and express beyond their native style.
Will I ever be able to do the same? Fluency in the words of God will yet take me many more years of study and practice. Taxi drivers beware.