March 10, 2015

Did you really mean to say that?


Recently I have had two experiences that have caused me to refocus on the specific words we say. Nathan Adams, a dyslexic poet, gave a TEDx talk at the UTC and he described his frustration with the watering down of word’s meaning. He cited LOVE and COOL as examples. “I love your skirt”. Really? Love. Is that accurate? Did you mean “that skirt looks good on you” or “I like color of your skirt”. Do we mean to use the same word about a skirt (inanimate) to describe the tenderness of the heart’s emotions and one that applies to humans? The Greeks probably have it right making a distinction between types of love with four different words for love; agape refers to brotherly love, charity, love of God and man; eros refers to romantic and sexual love; philia refers to affectionate feelings, usually between equals; and storge refers to love, affection usually between parents and their children, almost exclusively used to describe family relationships. In this country however, we love skirts and people equally – at least our language does. Nathan went on to say that COOL is almost like a currency now days. Kids with COOL are potential bullies. Kids without COOL are potential victims. COOL has become a currency we value and seek. There are vast quantities of papers written about the COOL factor and COOL parenting. We will dive into that more deeply in a later post but if you want to see Nathan’s TEDx talk, well you know the drill – google it!

A few days after the TEDx talk, I began reading Marcus J. Borg’s Speaking Christianity. Without getting into the theology of it all, the book’s premise is similar to Nathan’s – we’ve taken so many words and used them so casually that their meaning has morphed. Words like salvation, redemption and grace, all have morphed with frequent use and modern contexts. Even more recently, we’ve seen social media highlighting the power of words chosen as people are called out,  and sometimes losing their jobs, for poorly chosen words, whether intentional or not. Sociologist and Etymologist probably have a very scientific word for this very process. No doubt people are paid a lot of money to study words, the use and effect on humans. For me, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. I have learned to live by a simple guide; is it true (accurate)? is it fair to all concerned (would your reputation/integrity be at stake if you repeated it?), is it kind? – this is the big one for me…think about what your intentions are with selecting that word and if it isn’t kind or beneficial to everyone involved, then don’t say it.
Sometimes our mommas really did have it right as I doubt anyone reading this didn’t hear a familiar voice in your head saying  “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So I want to post a challenge – examine the words you use. Next time you’re about to compliment someone, think about the word you select. Do you really love the new haircut? Or is it flattering on them? Do you really think that those shoes are cool and did you mean to convey that power and status to someone? Do you think grace is the same as forgiveness? Take my challenge and leave comments here to share how the experience of being more intentional with your words has affected you. Are you more connected? Authentic? What is the response you’re getting when you speak with such powerful, authentic words?
…and if you see me around town ask me if I love pizza. I used to. But now I think pizza tastes good and it is one of my favorite foods.

One Comment

  1. Selden Popwell:
    March 11, 2015

    Great article! So true about the way we throw around our words. Our minister used to say only say it if it’s true, kind and necessary, so we coined it TKN. Instead of saying I love your blog; I really enjoyed reading it!

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