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October 18, 2003

An Essay on the Origins of "Dislogue"

In my explanation of my arrival at the title "dislogue" for this blog, I claimed it as my coinage. That was factually correct as I was unaware of prior use of the term. However, since today's googling to verify that at least some links were forwarding to the new site, I have come to the conclusion that I am not the originator of the term as I defined it. First, a little background:

Once my interest was piqued, I went to The Source, the Oxford English Dictionary ("OED," for those lacking a proper education in the English language and its infinite glories), to see if mention is made there of the word. I came across what OED called an "erron." usage, "dislogistic." Thinking this might pertain, I referenced the "correct" word, "dyslogistic," to discover it was a bit of a wild Canada. To quote the authority:

dyslogistic - also erron. dis.- Expressing or connoting disapprobation or dispraise; having a bad connontation; opporobrious. (The opposite of eulogistic.)

According to the references it was first noticed in 1802-1812 in "Ration." To put it another way, a dyslogy is a roast. It's the opposite of an eulogy. So something dyslogistic is something that, in a more modern usage, "disses" the object. It's interesting how, unknown to the speakers, words tend to conserve echoes of their history. What street punk dissing (or more properly, "dyssing") the local cop would dream he was conserving the two-centuries-old meaning of a word no longer in use, and never truly much used?

But this isn't the meaning, or exactly the word, that I chose to serve as title for this blog. I sought something that implied a broken dialogue, but that wasn't exactly a monologue either. It was meant to be more a "talking past each other" than a talking to each other sort of thing. Any married couple will know exactly what I mean.

It's a paradigm that fits blogging fairly well. Instead of replying directly to each other in the same forum in which the original statement is made, bloggers usually, or at least often, make their response in their own forum. And often it's not exactly on point, though it's at least somehow, tangentally related.

In any case, in my googling I came across pages and pages of cases where it appeared the writers were using the word in this sense. Oh, yes, some are clearly misspellings for "dialogue." Others, however, seem to fit the sense I employ over that of "dialogue." For example:

The following is from a speech to President Clinton made by Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan.

"Japan will also work together with the United States to build more cohesiveness and a feeling of reassurance through regional dislogue{sic} and cooperation." ([Source] Nichibei kankei shiryo-shu 1945-97, pp.1242-1245. Public Papers of the Presidents: William J. Clinton, 1993, I, pp.438-441.)

Note the inserted "{sic}" indicating this is not a transcription error. The word used was "dislogue," not dialogue.

What word better describes the posturing of international diplomacy? Especially in dealing with Oriental cultures, it is common for all sides (when are there ever only two sides in international diplomacy?) to state their position in such a way that each position appears totally unrelated to any other position. The Japanese are less adept at this than the Chinese, though they have been known to exercise it most artistically.

Another, unrelated source, one we must take seriously since it comes from an institution created to teach English, uses the term offhandedly in a matrix on "standards-based writing" for K-12 education. Here it's juxtaposed with "utilize dialogue" a few lines later, so it's meant as contrast. To wit, "...write dislogue to be used in a play." (1) Where better to find examples of dislogue? The mind leaps immediately to great scenes such as in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" where Lady M. is trying to scrub clean her hands, talking past her husband all the while. He reciprocates. I forget the words, the poignancy of the scene isn't in the words, it's in the fact that the words are aimed into the distance, as if they too are trying to distance themselves from the current moment and the concern over the consequences of recent actions.

He's another case perfectly on point, this time it's a trivia question in "? Master of the Universe Sci-fi Quiz ?"

17: From which film is the following dislogue from "I'll be back!" "Only in a re-run!"?

Films, like plays from which they evolved, are great repositories of dislogue. Puns, such as this one, are a specialized form of dislogue, one in which the speaker (or writer) intentionally misunderstands an opening statement (a "straight line" as the comedic industry calls it) in order to respond to a different meaning. Thus we have two speakers talking past each other's intent, rather than to it. The "I'll be back," above, is meant within the context of the film, but the respondant takes the leap outside the frame in which he resides, to the observer's world and view, to respond "only in a rerun," a repeat showing of this same film. It's an ironically self-referential statement of the sort that we literary-critical types thrive upon. (Note too the elegantly redundant use of "from" in the question, a turning back on itself much like the turning back of the film on itself in the reference to a repeat showing of the film.)

This fourth example (if I do say so myself) is a rather brillant argument for my thesis. Here we see a page devoted to the "Irvine Valley College Online Creative Writing Workshop," yet another example of a self-conscious and schooled authority on the very subject of proper English writing (and, presumably, proper usage). Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, Instructor, writes of the workshop:

"September 11, 2001: We are now sneaking into the Fourth Week of the Workshop - some excellent work being done by our group - lots of comments, dislogue. See it all on the Exercises and Workshop pages!"

Anyone who has attended such a workshop will recognise instantly the aptness of this description of the "feedback" process operating. (I am not an MFA, mind you, though I must confess to attending a couple of workshop classes, a full-fledged writers' workshop conference, and a writers' conference or two... or three, they all seem to converge into one big dislogue.) It's interesting that she associates comments, dislogue and work, but it's very accurate. Commenting on other people's work in such a way as to engage neither the work nor the writer is indeed work.

Yet another case to point, in this reply to a frequently-asked question on www.screentwriters.com, we see none other than Dr. Jack R. Stanley ("a full professor in the Communication Department at the University of Texas - Pan American, and the founder of the Screenwriting List and Screenwriting FAQ on the Internet") employing the term much as in the second and third examples above:

Besides slug lines and character names over dislogue, caps are also used in transitions (FADE IN: DISSOLVE TO: FADE TO BLACK, etc.), and then for emphasis. "

Again, the flow of talk in a play, or movie, is referred to as "dislogue."

I will end this small treatise with one last, institutional, example. This is found in the "Code of Corporate Governance for MSM Listed Companies." Under the Principles of Corporate Governance we find in point 6:

"6. The company should be ready, where practicable, to enter into a dislogue with institutional shareholders based on mutual understanding of objectives."

What is especially interesting about this case is the juxtaposition of mutuality of objectives with the disconnectedness of communications. Both corporation and shareholders share objectives, most notably that of profit, but they participate in an ongoing dislogue over methods and strategies. Of course, it's not always "practicable" (interesting choice over "practical") to enter a dislogue, at times real communication is needed (such as when the setting of corporate officials' benefits is on the agenda), but the company should always be ready to engage in dislogue. It's best to talk and let shareholders talk, though communication is not required, nor usually desirable.

So, we see from these examples dating back at least a decade that there is nothing truly new about the word "dislogue." It's been here, unnoticed, for a least a decade. We've simply been looking past it.

I consider it my privilege to have followed, if briefly, in the gigantic footsteps of James A. H. Murray, to have stood on the shoulders of William Safire, if but for a moment. I now return to my more normal slouching posture, a fly caught in a web of words.


(1) That is an unabashed New York Times elipsis, by the way, as it is deliberately used to obscure references to information that might serve to undermine my point. As the paper of record, NYT has established this as a proper and acceptable mode of argumentation. If The Grey Lady says it's okay, who am I to argue?

Posted by dan at October 18, 2003 04:08 PM | TrackBack
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