Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Imaginary languages and secret meanings

There are two phrases that mean nothing to almost anyone else, but which have stuck with me most of my life: “Glx sptzl glaah!” and “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”

The former is the baby-speak cry of Sugar and Spike in the comics of the same name by Sheldon Mayer. When the babies talk, all the parents hear is gibberish. But we lucky readers are privy to the rather sophisticated notions and outlandish schemes of these toddlers. If you’re wondering if this was unacknowledged source material for “Rugrats,” I suspect so. The first season of “Rugrats,” before rampant commercial needs overwhelmed creative impulses, was often wonderful. “Sugar and Spike” was consistently wonderful; even as an adolescent reader of mainstream superhero comics who groaned when some relative would mistakenly give him a “Richie Rich” or, God forbid, “Archie” comic, I was devoted to “Sugar and Spike.” And soon, very soon, you too will be able to share the joy:  an archive edition will finally be released by DC Comics next month.


(By the way, I bought the issue above right off the stands in 1970. I was 8.)

“Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges that I first read almost 30 years ago. It concerns a massive conspiracy by intellectuals to plant the false idea that there is a secret world called Tlon, with a nation called Uqbar. Inserting this false information into encyclopedias and referencing it elsewhere helps to, in essence, create the actuality — just as the creation of fiction implants ideas in readers that sometimes become reality. (Who invented the satellite? Well, the notion came from Arthur C. Clarke.) The fact that this phrase has stuck with me for 30 years proves the point.

In other words, both phrases are about imaginary languages and secret meanings.


Which takes me to today’s Google Logo (shown above). I was thrilled beyond measure to see that it was an homage to Borges, born 112 years ago today. More about that Google doodle, and how  Borges’ thinking led to the creation of hypertext links, can be found via this hypertext link.

To some degree, we are all of us privy to secret languages all around us every day, even when spoken in languages we purport to speak:  the thrum of jargon and subtext and obscure reference. It’s amazing we can understand anything. To some degree, this is what all of Harold Pinter’s plays are about:  that we understand nothing, while understanding everything all too well.

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