My posts about how we use words to reach out to each other, to connect with each other, got me to thinking about words. Words are strange, magical little creatures. They have meaning. They are powerful.
If I type the word ‘can’t’, no one is going to be offended. But if I remove the apostrophe and switch the ‘a’ with a different vowel, you can bet some people will become upset. It would still just be four typed letters, but now it would have the power of what that new word represents. Strangely, because it would now be a somewhat vulgar representation, some people would become even more upset. And yet it is still just a representation of part of the human body, a part which very few people have any negative feelings towards. I hope you have no negative feelings about that… those… because that would be sad. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘Virginia’ as my example, but we would, of course, have had to switch and remove more letters.
I hope you followed along with that last bit. And I hope no one is offended. I was going to suggest at this point that we play a little game where I type common, everyday words that can be changed into dirty words by just switching a letter or two, but I am going to let you play that game on your own. I have been doing it in my head all day, and it is sort of fun.
But this is the power and mystery of the written and spoken word. Take the “N word’, for example. It has so much power that I can’t type the word itself. I have to type ‘N word’ instead. African Americans can use this word without offending anyone. That Krammer guy from Sienfeld said it, and started a firestorm of controversy. He was on stage at the time, and you could make the argument that he should have been protected by that whole ‘freedom of speech’ thing. On the other hand, he shouted it at someone in the audience… someone who was African American… so it wasn’t really part of his act.
Don’t misunderstand me. This word is not a word that I use or approve of. My kids have been raised to never judge a person based on race. They have to decide individually if people are jerks or not. In fact, as I said in an earlier post, I kicked the boyfriend of one of my wife’s friends out of our house permanently for using the ‘N word’ in front of Jessica when she was little, and I wasn’t polite about the way I kicked him out either.
Words label objects, but they also express ideas. If a space alien came down to visit you, it might not be difficult to explain that ‘rock’ is the verbal equivalent of an actual substance. Four letters that make a sound that represents many similar forms of matter. Now try to explain love to your new friend. It is still a small word. But you could talk for a week using millions of words, and still not be able to convey all that that word means to human beings.
They say that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. But emotional and mental cruelty are very real. You can either tear down the people around you, or build them up. So in a way, you get to decide if you are going to be surrounded by either rubble and ruins or tall, strong, flourishing redwoods.
Choose your words with care…