I submitted a comment today to one of the blogs that I read regularly. It is written by a young linguist and so the subject matter was words, specifically how their meanings can change in popular usage, sometimes to the extent of coming to mean the exact opposite. As I was writing the comment, it happened to me again. Sometimes when I pay too close attention to a word I start to get this strange feeling that the word begins to slip away from me, lose it's meaning and become something very strange and incomprehensible. A short word like "and" if stared at for a while starts to look odd and I begin to wonder if I'm even spelling it correctly. The more common and everyday the word, the more likely this bizarre confusion can result for me. I thought about going into Linguistics but was freaked out by the possibility that I would one day become a blathering idiot unable to understand simple speech.
You might know what I mean if you have ever started thinking about an everyday activity while you're engaged in that very activity. If you really pay attention to the way you walk as you are walking you can become very confused and possibly trip. This, I think explains the awkward person's gait. He or she may simply be too conscious of the way in which they are being perceived. The really cool person is someone who seems not to care what you think when they walk past.
For heaven's sake don't even try thinking about chewing while you eat, you are likely to bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek. Likewise, a really smooth series of hammering strokes can be interrupted by thinking about hammering thereby causing you to bang your thumb. I think words are like that, in that they are the most common everyday tool that we use and speaking and reading are the most common of everyday activities. If you stop and scrutinize the tool or activity while engaged with that tool or activity then estrangement results from that tool or activity. The more intimate and everyday that tool or activity the more freaked-out you could be if you ever stop to look at it really closely. It is our nature to take such things for granted. Look very closely at a fork or a doorknob and you might get that feeling I'm describing.
Martin Heidegger touches on this in Being and Time. The meaning of being is derived through the series of interconnected relations of other beings-in-the-world. The human being which he called Da-sein relies on a dependency between Dasein and the world. You can be in a state of un-reflecting everydayness until you stop and make a separation between you and other beings. The hammer, the fork, the doorknob, you and the word function within a field of experience that constitutes existence until you choose to atomize or make discreet this existence into parts that are set off against each other as distinct beings.
Words and World.