Open Letter to Yogi Tea
Garden Statutory by Madeline Gorman
To Whom It May Concern:
. I am writing to express my concern with your “Yogi Inspirations”—the “inspirational” quotations printed on each Yogi tea bag label. While I understand that the intention of these mantras is to “inspire” people, I would like to gently remind you that intentions and results are often torn asunder by misguided execution. Over the course of this letter, I hope to respectfully draw your attention to certain “Yogi Inspirations” that are at best, ungrammatical, and at worst, nonsensical. Please note that while it brings me little pleasure to parse corporate semantic and syntactic pratfalls, as a lover of language I am inspirited to protest when I see it being used incorrectly, especially in print. I hope that by the end of this letter you will share my concern over the deleterious effects of exposing the public to poorly written English.
. I have divided your “Yogi Inspirations” into three categories: platitudes (including cliches, truisms, and tautalogies), grammatical violations (including peculiar syntax), and semantic violations (including philosophically dubious or nonsensical statements). I will not spend too much time explicating the platitudes category; it is vast and clichés are rhetorically synecdochical—regardless of variation, each one emerges from the same unoriginality. However, in case of any doubt over what constitutes a cliché, here are a few examples:
The power of love is infinite.
Wherever you go, go with all of your heart.
The beauty of life is to experience yourself.
Together we can do what we can never do alone.
. I included the last statement as an example of a tautology, but the former three are all clichés. Like most clichés, these statements are difficult to argue with because they are expressed so banally that meaning loses its spur. That being said, I feel that it is unreasonable to expect a business to generate truly original language, so I do not have any further criticism to offer you in regard to this grouping of Yogi Inspirations; it is by far the least harmful of the three.
. I would like to draw your attention to some of your grammatically flawed sayings. Who you hire to write these is beyond my scope (although my first guess would be Stephenie Meyer), but you may want to consider providing her with a proofreader. Note:
Say it straight, simple and with a smile.
“Say it straight” is an idiom, and therefore arguably exempt from the distinction that adverbs modify verbs, while adjectives modify nouns. However, I would argue that “simple” is incorrect—don’t you mean “simply”? Furthermore you are missing a comma after “simple”. As it stands now, that lone comma after “straight” is trying its best to connect an independent clause with a fracture (there is no subject or verb in “simple and with a smile”!), but it is failing. If you want to slap clauses and fragments together without worrying about forming a grammatical sentence, my advice would be to omit the period, which is used only to signal the end of a sentence. Note another case of a missing serial comma:
Feel great, act great and approve of yourself.
Whether by omission or improper insertion, commas seem particularly prone to abuse by your inspirations. Watch as this comma struggles to fill the shoes of a semi-colon:
Live from your heart, you will be most effective.
. Returning to the subject of adverbs, here is an example from The Nature Box website. I truly hope it was a typo on their part, because the Yogi Inspiration they quote is:
A lover sees a flower different than a camel does.
. “Different” is an adjective. “Differently” is an adverb. My recommendation is to pick up an English usage guide and go over the basics of grammar, in particular how to place serial commas. With New Media infusing American culture, literacy has become a topical national concern, and as a company based in the United States, I urge you to consider how even subtle errors in writing jeopardize a public understanding of English, in addition to being unclear and sloppy.
. The third, semantic category is full of dubious statements as well as non-statements that hardly make enough sense to qualify any sort of attitude, even skepticism. Let us start with the latter:
Goodness should become human nature, because it is real in nature.
In short, this statement is illogical. “Goodness” is expressed as an active subject that “should” transform itself into human nature, unless you were using the transitive form of the verb, in which case goodness should be appropriate or concord with human nature. Perhaps a case could be made for the logic of the latter. Nonetheless, the ambiguity of the verb is problematic. The second clause is also problematic, in part because “nature” is a loaded philosophical concept that you probably do not want to tackle on a tea label, but mostly because “because” is empty here: you cannot spontaneously generate a causal relationship by inserting the conjunction “because” between two statements. The structure of this sentence suggests some kind of analogy between “human nature” and “nature” that is mediated by “goodness,” but personally, I see no coherent connection between these three noun phrases, perhaps because of your use of copulas (rumor has it they are not the strongest verbs in the English language). Here is another Yogi Inspiration that relies on the verb “to be” to escape its own vacuity:
Life is a chance. Love is infinity. Grace is reality.
. What does “Grace is reality” mean? Semantically, “is” can be thought of as the equivalent of an equal sign: it positions two constructs as reciprocal and equal to each other. Thus, “grace is reality” and “reality is grace” are semantically equivalent. Unfortunately, neither makes sense. “Life,” “love,” and “grace” are three immense constructs and I question whether reducing each to one word illuminates anything to anyone. Here is another copula-based statement that attempts to tackle some big ideas and fails to make sense:
Wisdom becomes knowledge when it becomes your personal experience.
. The syntax of this sentence suggests that wisdom precedes knowledge and personal experience. However, wisdom is knowledge. That aside, I would like you to take a closer look at the clauses on either side of “when”. Because “it” is making an anaphoric reference to “wisdom,” one could rewrite the sentence as: “Wisdom becomes knowledge when wisdom becomes personal experience.” In other words, the syntax of this sentence effectively (and presumably inadvertently) conflates personal experience and knowledge. Semantically, it is unclear, circular, and borders on gibberish.
. Here is a less technical example of a semantic error:
You are unlimited.
Here are some things that limit people: death, time, society, self, the weather, physicality, socioeconomic background, geography, and patience for inane statements. While I can deduce that you were trying to express the notion that humans contain some aspect of the infinite within them, presumably encoded intangibly through constructs like hope or love, the attempt to invoke profundity by using overly simplistic language backfires.
. Here is a similar statement that fails:
The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.
Aside from any criticisms of hedonism that one might voice, the suggestion that nonstop enjoyment is the purpose of life overlooks the reality of global suffering. As a product of a capitalist consumer culture, the sentiment of this particular Yogi Inspiration is not surprising, but I think it provides an apt opportunity for a little corporate self-reflexivity. “Life” is universal; “the purpose of life” by definition ought to apply to everyone alive, and yet what this statement leaves out is that having the option to choose to enjoy every moment is a luxury that many people simply do not have access to.
. I could go on, but I do not want to exhaust you with more analyses. Please see appendix A for additional Yogi Inspirations that need editing, and please feel free to ask me if you are confused about any of the objections I raised here; I am happy to explicate style and grammar in the name of promoting a more judicious approach to language. That being said, I recommend that you hire a proper copy-editor. I also noticed some statements on your website that were poorly written. In general, I would diagnose your language problem as an over-reliance on the verb “to be,” a lack of hermeneutical reflexivity, a mediocre understanding of grammar and punctuation, and the tendency to overreach yourselves.
. Lastly, let me apologize if any portion of this letter comes across as condescending. As you can probably tell, I care very deeply about language. Furthermore, I feel that your company has a responsibility to maintain certain standards of literacy and meaning-making that are not currently being met. As a long-time customer, I am disappointed in your frivolous approach to language and, at times, even ashamed. I enjoin you to respect (and maybe even fear) the ability of language to not only convey meaning, but impact the world as well. You can do better, Yogi Tea.
Concerned Speaker of English
P.S. In breaching the subject of language in society, I feel I should bring your awareness to alternative approaches to the ethics of representation. As you may have noticed, this letter has been composed according to many of the guidelines of Standard English, which itself is subject to criticism—and rightly so. Thus, let me remind you that conforming to rules of grammar and syntax is not the only option you have in rectifying your poor linguistic executions. In fact, you may want to do the exact opposite as a radical stance against the hegemonic oppression enacted by a centrist, capitalist, state-controlled language. If this direction interests you more, then disregard the contents of this letter, fire Stephenie Meyer, and see if you can get in touch with Charles Bernstein.
Appendix A : More Problematic Yogi Tea Inspirations
Whatever character you give your children shall be their future.
Consciousness makes us human.
Feel great, act great and be great.
Make yourselves happy that when others look at you they become happy too.
The beauty in you is your spirit. The strength in you is your endurance. The intelligence in you is your vastness.
The soul is projection: represent it.
Whatever you are doing is the most beautiful thing.
Your infinity in you is the reality in you.
Appendix B : Recommended Reading
Barthes, Roland. The Death of the Author.