The definition of “is”

photo by JessicaGale,
photo by JessicaGale,

Quick: In a complete sentence, define is without using the word is.

Not easy. When defining a verb, my instinct is to use the word “is”. I flounder more than an actual flounder and end up drowning in a weak mumbly-gook of words that don’t mean anything. My best attempt is this:

Is defines itself as the present moment state of being of a singular subject.

Huh? I’ve baffled even myself and I supposedly know of what I speak.

A lot of times, there are days when I start up the computer and want to write, have the opportunity to write, and know vaguely what I want to write. I might even have a few phrases floating in the maelstrom of my mind. But the chaos never settles. I keep writing the scene, making my word count, writing pretty phrases, but I’m not saying anything. The book isn’t progressing. I’m putting words on paper, yes, but I’m trying to make length, not story.

Back in college, we called this “bulling”. As in, “I bulled my way through that paper.” Usually this involved manipulating font sizes and margins, adding qualifiers and speaking in that academic language that muddles even the clearest of words.

(Like is.)

Come to think of it, politicians are brilliant at this. Late night comedians find glorious riches to mine, thanks to politicians’ eloquent way of saying nothing in as many words as possible.

I’ve read books that feel this way, too.  Recently, I read a literary novel that left me wondering, “what the heck was that about?” Granted, one of the main characters was a trouble-shooter for a government agency, and his testimony (and later, memoirs) reflected the need to cover up the truth of an international politically sensitive matter. In short, the scandal of an American woman caught up in an international drug trafficking ring. Bang, bang, the woman’s assassinated and everything is managed just fine, thank you.

Even if the woman’s motives aren’t clear.

Even if the target of the bullet wasn’t her.

Even if the intended target doesn’t know himself that his death was supposed to set off a string of violent events, culminating in the assassination of a Third World dictator. (Or dictator wannabe. I wasn’t certain.)

It was the government trouble-shooter’s doublespeak that troubled me. (It also alienated me from the characters other than the narrator. But it’s a literary novel, so I guess literary readers are supposed to be okay with alienation. The harder it is to read, the more profound the content must be, right?)

Why can’t you just say it? I wanted to yell. Just admit the truth! It wouldn’t have done any good. Fictional characters don’t respond to criticism from their readers.

Just say it. Kill the academic muddling. Stop the political double-speak and spin-doctoring. Quit  justifying while apologizing. End the meaningless babble to fill air time and attract attention and increase web traffic.

Just say what you need to say. Then zip it. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason, you know.

For once, I’ll take my own advice.

Have a great weekend, y’all.


7 thoughts on “The definition of “is”

  1. The word “Is” connotes an item – animate or inanimate – in a state of being. That was the definition I came up with, and then I read yours. We just about mimicked each other, I think.

    As for writing that obscures, I’m right there with you. Don’t make me wonder who, what, when, how and why for too long or I’ll bolt!


    1. That’s funny that you, a judge, would mention that. Every time I try to read a court decision or a legal document, my mind becomes befuddled and confused! Maybe if I knew more about the law it would be easier. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Is: the present participle of the verb ‘to be’ when referring to he, she or it.’ That’s a boring definition but I think it’ll do.

    Prose that is trying to be clever is just annoying. A good communicator doesn’t need to use arcane language to prove how clever he or she is. A good communicator will have a broad vocabulary, but they will know how and when to make use of it. Like a virtuoso playing a violin, sometimes complexity is beautiful; sometimes simplicity is best. I think of the heart-stopping, can’t-breathe-it’s-so-good words of Robert Frost. He writes about the ordinary with such insight and such mastery. It’s extraordinary. If I could be half as a good a writer as he I’d be happy. Maybe that’s my trouble. Maybe what I really want to do at this stage of my life is write poetry. I keep getting stuck when I try to write what I think I ‘ought’ to write, but poetry – a breath, a sentence that expresses or encapsulates a moment or an essence of life, of being – that’s what I want to write. But I’m scared of the big emotions that go with the territory of poetry (for me, at least). Maybe you can’t make *art* without intensity. I don’t know. Is art even worth making? Sorry for rambling. You have a tendency to set my brain wandering. Always thought-provoking, Laura, thank you 🙂


    1. Art is definitely worth making! Think about God’s artistry in creation; we’re made in his image and part of that is reflected in how we have the urge to create. Great art adds physical and spiritual beauty to a world that desperately needs hope and is often mired in squalor and ugliness of spirit. What saddens me is that many Christians disregard art as “spiritually impractical”, believing that it doesn’t really help people. So the art world is thoroughly secular and a very difficult place to be as a believer.

      As far as you writing poetry, I say: go for it. It’ll take practice and you’ll have to build your poetry-writing muscles and face the intensity of the experience. Overall, I think poets tend to be more intense than some other types of writers. Maybe it’s part of trying to capture complexity in a particularly complex and rigid format. For what it’s worth, I think you have a lovely, musical way with words, almost as though you’re longing to dance to some music no one else can hear. Dance away, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Back in college, we called this “bulling”. As in, “I bulled my way through that paper.” Usually this involved manipulating font sizes and margins, adding qualifiers and speaking in that academic language that muddles even the clearest of words.”

    I latched onto this and will add it to my vocabulary. I laughed out loud when I read it because I remembered doing this for my discussion boards and papers in school. And I’m about to enter into that world again. Ugh! No I’m actually excited.
    This is not the first time you have given me some interesting word to use and for that I thank you! 🙂


    1. Glad to give you a new word to use! As a student, I couldn’t bear the thought of bulling through a paper–I was too much of a perfectionist–but my classmates (apparently) did it all the time. On a tangent: my first boyfriend told me that an English professor docked him points for having larger-than-one-inch margins on a paper. BF protested. The professor pulled out a ruler and measured the margins! He was quite a stickler for details. The BF never told me who won that argument. (I suspect that meant he lost.)

      Best of luck in your re-emergence into the school experience. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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