Armor Laced With Letters

When reading Zone One and discussing the use of the complicated vocabulary during class, my mind went to the familiar phrase of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Although it doesn’t exactly follow the meaning of the phrase, I associated this phrase with Zone One because of the dangerous nature of the storyline: it revolves around an apocalyptic world, where people are constantly in danger, yet they are able to use one thing that won’t put them in danger, whether it be in terms of the PASD, or in terms of the blood thirsty zombies inhabiting the city: language.

On page 98, a line states “the new vocabulary of the disaster was their last-ditch armor plate. They tucked it under their fatigues, over their hearts, the holy verses that might catch the bullet”. The use of language is so important, and in a world where everything is going to crap, the masses need something to hold onto and protect their sanity. Words then become lingos, and people trying to survive grasp onto these lingos for dear life, hoping that the dense words and familiarity of language will keep them afloat among the uncertainty in the world. For example, it is said that “other phrases in vogue were less invigorating and uplifting: extinction, doomsday, end of the world. They lacked zing. They did not stir the masses from their poly-this poly-that inflatable mattresses to pledge their lives to reconstruction”. This reflects on how complicated language is protecting people from the reality of the world. Instead of a phrase like “end of the world” that has one, grave and terrifying denotation, they can use more complicated, “invigorating and uplifting” words that are less pessimistic, and offer a glimmer of hope that their lives aren’t completely pointless and in jeopardy at this point.

Additionally, because people are more concerned with survival and the riddance of the epidemic on their hands, no one is really concerned with documenting language and it’s many changes throughout time. This dense and complicated language is emerging only because of the epidemic the people are facing: they don’t have the luxury of taking language for granted, they can’t just look up a word when they need it. If they need language, they need to know it on their own. And of course if they survive, they need people to keep the language going, to help it prosper and continue to exist.

In terms of the reader’s perspective, the complicated language is able to put us dead center, right within the midst of the uncertainty and chaos that the characters are feeling themselves. Throwing off our sense of certainty only puts us more within the ambiguity of the situation that comes with an apocalyptic world.

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