caught up with a friend this week, and for whatever reason, our
conversation turned to how language… specifically words… are really
nothing more than labels.
and I are exchanging information right now, which for lack of
a better description we can call written English. I say “hello”
and you understand. But in different languages I could be saying
“hola”… “bonjour”… “ciao”… and as long as you and I have some
understanding in place, a message connects.
this concept a bit further and we can look at things like what
makes the sky the sky. As a physical entity, there it is. Atmosphere
and sunshine and clouds and stars and… but for you and I to be
exchanging information and referencing it, the “sky” could be
“ground”… could be “pink”… “rag”… “tortoise”… “pear”… it really
label… the word… that we are taught for sake of communication…
is sky. While the origin of the word might be fascinating, it
doesn’t change the physical entity. And if we have an understanding
with a different word, that could work just as well. Heck, I could
say “look at those chirpy ankle biters”… and you could know what
I mean, lifting your head to see the fluffy white clouds.
was very tempted to say something about labels and joke about
something like… let’s say “Mr. Ticklesworth”… but then I realized
that a couple of you might actually refer to something as “Mr.
Ticklesworth” and my joke wouldn’t work. Or… worse yet… you might
think I was being serious or using personal experience. So I didn’t.
That said… if you do refer to anything, or anyone’s anything,
as “Mr. Ticklesworth”… please get some help. Moving on…)
concept I’m trying establish here is simply that words only have
the power that we give to them. Something that may be viewed as
insulting, ignorant, obscene, offensive, or any other negative
meaning (especially a powerfully negative meaning), is not any
of that because of the combination of letters used to spell it.
example… are we really disguising things… hiding things… changing
things… by saying “f-word” or “f-bomb” instead of the actual word?
Is that description really more polite? Is it honestly more acceptable?
easy answer is yes… of course it’s more acceptable and more polite.
Just the use of such terms on the radio and in the papers and
all over television confirms that idea. But again… is it really?
My original question meant does saying “the f-word” really disguise
what you are saying, hide what you mean, or change the connection
the answer is… no, it doesn’t. What it changes is the context.
I say “f-word you” and mean “f-word you”… well… that use of the
term is significantly different than someone saying “Bob used
the f-word” during a conversation. Right? One is the use with
the intent… one is the reporting of the event. And yet, in both
cases, the casual observer still fills in the blanks. “F-word”
becomes the real thing… and, by moving that along… the same thing.
And yet it isn’t. It’s the context that shifts perception.
give the words power.
so I laugh when people act as though an apology actually changes
the way a person thinks or what a person believes. Someone says
something and people go bonkers… and then with a statement from
a public relations office, a listing of people that have worked
side-by-side with our quotable notable, and some phone calls to
leading organizations or figureheads for the offended… *** presto
*** we have a teachable moment and forgiveness.
not that giving a person a second chance isn’t the appropriate
action. Absolutely it is. Instead, what I find humorous is that
after the public penance, people honestly believe a person has
maybe. Sure, some people may actually regret some actions and
pain and troubles they may have caused. But more likely what we
have done is allowed an apology to shift the focus, not the intent.
The person may be just as ignorant, biased and offensive as ever…
just now forgiven. The apology wasn’t sincere, but merely to deflect
world is an imperfect place. We’re going to see live nude girls,
utter and hear profanity, and be exposed to unspeakable violence
and horrors. No one can be isolated from it all. Some efforts
of prevention… actions instead of reactions… are wonderful things.
And, unfortunately, some efforts of prevention may be necessary.
~ ~ ~
I was writing this article, I thought of people I know that have
been in abusive relationships… where it has been proven time and
time again that words can hurt, with devastating cruelty. And
I saw some news articles about places dealing with cyberbullying
and other issues.
am not looking to minimize the importance of addressing such issues,
or the horrible ways that some people behave.
it began as a wandering train of thought from what makes the combination
of letters that spell “blue” strike those of us speaking English
as color… an emotion… and so on. Apply the theory to any language.
Expand the theory to include symbols and actions.
meandering journey of that train eventually led it to a thought
about what gives words power… and a realization that it isn’t
the word itself, more often it’s the intent.
where I am headed is that sticks and stones… and people… break
not whether words will ever hurt you… they will… when used as
a weapon… when used with a purpose. And when they hurt, I can
only wish it will be because of something offered with dignity
and respect, an honesty that allows growth and healing and positive
that’s not the way it always works. But… and here’s the point
of this essay… that isn’t the fault of the words.
internet becomes the perfect example. People have a forum… whether
by their own web site or perhaps the comment sections for others…
where they act anonymously, saying whatever with few rules to
keep them in check. If you’ve looked around at these, you know
that while ignorant loud-mouthed jerks may not be the majority,
they are not rare.
gives meaning? What makes perception and understanding reality?
the word itself.