low-down

We have a longstanding silliness in my family which involves substituting synonyms for things in such a way that the meaning is skewed slightly in an amusing direction.  One of us referred to another of less physical stature as “low” rather than “short” at one point and we enjoy revisiting the substitution whenever the opportunity arises.

I thought of this earlier today when I was out for a walk in my neighborhood.  I passed a young family with a child of not very many months who was walking on his own.  It looked like it was very difficult for the adult accompanying this small person to hold his hand.  The little one was very close to the ground.  It also occurred to me that the world would look very different from two feet off the ground from how it does from around five and a half (which is the vantage point from which I take it in).

Our little joke about low/short is just that, a joke, but I realized that if you were to refer to a person as low rather than short you’d be identifying his or her point of view and perspective rather than just describing him or her.  (They’re both relative terms, but in the physical context, one refers to where a person is coming from relative to others rather than how the person measures relative to others.)

When we talk about people, we tend to do lots of describing (which of course often says as much about our own perspective as about the actuality of the person, but that’s for another time) and not a lot of identifying of or with how the world might look to someone in their situation or condition. I don’t think this is news to anyone, really, but I liked pondering what it would be like if we had and used language that did more of what, for height, “low” does and less of what “short” does.

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