As an English teacher, one of the phrases that I have known for a very long time is “unclear pronoun reference.” That’s when a pronoun in a sentence could refer to more than one antecedent. For example: “When I put the pizza in the oven, it was hot.” What was hot? It was! But was that the pizza, already hot before it went into the oven, or the oven, preheated and ready to go?
But besides unclear pronoun references, there are words that, while not pronouns, still do not mean quite as much as they are supposed to mean. Often they don’t mean as much as their speakers think they mean.
Case in point. I recently heard a song, “San Marcos,” by those masters of autotune, Brockhampton. At the end of the song, we hear a gospel choir singing “I want more out of life than this. I want more. I want more.” This lyric is repeating six times, meaning that choir expresses their desire for more a full eighteen times. Clearly they want more, and I would like to assist them in acquiring it.
But that’s where those imprecise words come in. First, there’s an unclear pronoun reference. I want more out of life than this. This. What, exactly, is “this”? Is it the singer’s relationships, community, job situation, philosophical underpinnings, cold ramen, or what? I have no idea of what “this” represents, and I rather guess that neither the London Community Gospel Choir (who sang on the recording) or the eight people who have writing credit for the song know.
Then there’s “more.” What does it mean to want “more” out of life? Since we can’t be at all sure of what “this” is, there’s not much hope of being able to identify “more.” Even if we could make that measurement, how much more is wanted? If what I have today is X, does the desire for more find itself satisfied with X+1 or does it require X+100? I’d really like to help, but when you use such fuzzy lyrics, I can’t know.
On the other hand, I think that the writers might be intentionally vague. They’re hoping to tap into an ill-defined sense of dissatisfaction and desire that inhabits their restless, adolescent audience. How many teen girls will hear “I want more from my life than this” and feel as if the song was written for them? “It’s like they know me!” those listeners will say.
Of course it isn’t just teen girls who “want more out of life than this.” We all have longings and restless feelings. Don’t we all want more, at least part of the time, for as long as we live? Jesus promised more to us in John 10:10. When we hear him promise life “in abundance,” we probably think something different than those who sing along to Brockhampton, but we also think something different from what God offers us.
Do you want more out of life than this? More than what you now enjoy? Perhaps you should, but perhaps what you really need is not what you really want.