Selfies and Shakespeare - CNBC Africa

Selfies and Shakespeare


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Chris Bishop

Among them, declared the word of the year, was ‘Selfie’. Now, for anyone over 25, this is a photograph taken of oneself –usually with a cell phone. They are often messy affairs, from very odd angles, with arms often in the way. Now they have a name. It is a bit ugly, one could say, it is not really a word for romantic language.

Neither are the other words that came into the dictionary in November like ‘hackable’ – which means your phone or computer can be delved into by strangers – or ‘high definition’, which may be a functional name for a TV screen, but not a word you can imagine whispering passionately.   

The very fact that new words are being woven into the language shows that English is a growing and thriving language in step with the times. It is a language that can be as powerful and dramatic as summer lightening.

In my travels as a journalist in Africa it never ceased to amaze me how people, for whom English is a third or fourth language, can master the language far better than those who learned at their mother’s knee. It is still a language of opportunity.

There is a school of thought, albeit a romantic one, which says that the cementing of English as the world language is as much down to its nature of being an expressive and flexible tongue, as it is to commerce, conquest and guns.

In this, we all owe a debt to the playwright who rarely made much money from his writing, but through it he transformed the way the world expresses itself by coining countless words and phrases. Where would we be in this age without the words bags and baggage, both coined by the man?

The man was William Shakespeare, the wordsmith that the world is unlikely to forget, who captured the soul of human existence in all its sound and fury – to borrow one of his phrases. His chiming passages have been read aloud from Nairobi to Namibia and by the idealistic political prisoners of South Africa on Robben Island.

I will be honest I hated Shakespeare when I was forced to study his work at school, even though he was born and buried just 70 km from my home. I couldn’t understand much of it – was this really my mother tongue?

Like in many Shakespearean plays, this hate turned to love driven by passion. Soon, I was reading his cascading verses with a broad smile on my face. The iambic pentameters dripped from my tongue like honey.

So bless him, I will now borrow an entire paragraph from the rich phrases the Bard from Stratford-upon-Avon coined.

Shakespeare was the man who taught me to wear my heart on my sleeve, to see the world as my oyster and become a tower of strength. As a journalist, to get down to the short and long of it and to tell the truth and shame the devil as swift as a shadow before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Would Shakespeare have been a take of ‘Selfies’? In the words of the great man: there’s the rub, even for the stony hearted it may be the stuff as dreams are made on.