Movier & Stillier
The story “Movier & Stillier” looks at how, as adults, we accept the use of misleading language as normative and how, when our perceptions are challenged, indeed, even when our perceptions are bested, we revert to what we know. It also bespeaks the use of language for control: in the story, a young girl decides to use more honest language, and is teased for it, thereby causing her to abandon her principled stance on word use. In short, this is a story about human habit, and how words are used to enforce that habit.
One afternoon Lucy asked: “Daddy, why is it colder at the top of the world?”
“Uh,” I said, caught off guard, “well, it’s further away from the sun.”
She looked at me skeptically.
I held up my fist and the dog’s ball, making the ball orbit my fist. “Here, if this is the sun, and this is the earth, the top part of the earth is further from the sun, so it is colder.”
“But why?” she asked more stubbornly.
“Well, uh…y’see…Oh! You know how when you put your hand close to the campfire it’s really hot?”
“But when you pull back, you can’t feel the heat, right?”
She continued nodding.
“That’s like the sun. The top of the word is further away, so it is colder.”
The skepticism did not leave her face. “But why does that make it colder?”
I sighed. Questions are good, but exhausting.
“Well, y’see, everything is made up of these teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy little things called atoms.”
She looked hard at her dress, then at her hands.
“No, you can’t see them. They’re too small…you just have to trust me on this.”
There is nothing more confidence-shaking than the disbelief of a second-grader.
“At any rate, the sun is like a giant campfire, giving off energy, and when these little guys — the atoms — get energy, they get excited and move a lot. When they get less energy, they don’t move as much.”
There was a pause.
“You just have to trust me on this one too.”
“But why does that make it hot or cold? You’ve only told me a bunch of ‘how‘ answers.” She said, crossing her arms.
I sighed again. “Well, when your body feels the atoms moving or not moving, it tells your brain…and I guess we call those feelings ‘hot‘ and ‘cold.’”
“But why — ” she began.
“Lucy, you just have to trust me on this, seriously, it’s just the way the universe is.”
She furrowed her brow. “But then, hot and cold are lying-words.”
“What? What are you talking about?” It was my turn to be confused.
“Well,” she began, and I could see the cogs turning, “things aren’t really hot or cold are they? We just feel hot and cold when we touch them, but the things themselves aren’t.”
“Sh! Don’t interrupt! The things are actually movier if they feel ‘hot’ and stillier if they feel ‘cold.’”
“Well, I guess you’re right…but no one will — ”
“You and mum say ‘the truth matters.’ So I am not going to use lying-words anymore! I am going to use truth-words!”
Then, with an air of victory about her, she strutted off to go and tell her stuffed animals that she had discovered an unknown truth of the universe.
My wife thought this was very entertaining and we tried to use Lucy’s new truth-words when we remembered (which wasn’t often).
Lucy’s teacher thought it was funny too and said that it showed intelligence and creativity. But the other kids thought it was weird and teased her for it. After a while Lucy forgot about truth– and lying-words and so we went back to using hot and cold.
Erik Peters is a teacher and avid mediaevalist from Vancouver, Canada. He has a deep interest in humanity and the natural world. Erik has spent much of his career working with marginalised groups in a variety of settings and this has profoundly influenced his writing. You can check out more of Erik’s writing in ‘The Silent World In Her Vase’ and in the November 2020 issue of ‘The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature.’