Monday, January 08, 2007

Word toss

Sometimes when I step back to think about the way that we use words in our lives, I notice how cavalier we can be about the use of some words. Perhaps in this "age of affirmation and hyperbole", we often try to use words that highlight how intense we feel or how much we believe in whatever we are stating. We use words like "hate", "love", "hideous", and "beautiful" to describe things as mundane as a turkey sandwich (okay, maybe not a sandwich, but you get my point), not to mention the persistent misuse of "always" and "never". I most definitely include myself in this. In my normal histrionics, I have been known to throw out the occasional hyperbole, but how helpful is that really? Does it really help me convey my meaning any better? Probably not. In my opinion, it really only serves to water-down language by making emphatic words less emphatic.

A related problem is the misuse of words that don't really fit the context. Two of the more misused words, I think, are arrogance and bravery. Arrogance is often used to describe someone who is confident or proud of themselves. While some such people may be arrogant, I don't think all of them are because arrogance carries with it the assumption of a value judgement. Arrogance implies that the confidence and pride is reason for believing that the self is better than others. In other words, if a person is confident in their own abilities and proud of their prior accomplishments, but does not see that as reason to place him/herself in higher standing or deserving of special privileges, are they really arrogant? I don't think so. Confidence is a good thing, and we should encourage it, but we shouldn't confuse confidence with arrogance. With bravery, we often throw that word around when fear is not an issue. I don't think someone can be brave if they aren't afraid. Otherwise, they are simply being. Fear is a necessary part of bravery. A person cannot be brave if they do not fear.

Anyway, those are only two examples. I'm sure there are many others. Like I said, I'm at least as bad about this as anyone else. I try to moderate it at times, but like I said, my histrionic tendencies sometimes come out despite my best efforts. I've just been thinking a lot lately about how we can't take language for granted. Communication is essential to relationships and growth, and we sometimes do a poor job of communicating when we don't use language appropriately.

1 comment:

sarahdawn said...

I agree. Having a 4 1/2 year old really makes that stand out for me. I didn't realize how I overused and misused some words until she began repeated them. "Always" is one of her big words right now. I had no idea how much I said it. Now I try to reserve it for expressing only things that merit it. You know, thing like - I will always love you Paris and "Paris, Tripp is not for hitting" " Always, mom? Is Tripp always not for hitting." "Yes Paris, that rull is ALWAYS the same." :-)