Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

Choosing Your Words Wisely Will Empower You And Those Around You

 

Words matter

Words matter

“I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the job of writing them.”~Anne Rice

The vernacular of our language changes every day.  Words that were used centuries ago may no longer exist today. They disappear, or change meaning or are no longer relevant in today’s society.

This week, I was disturbed by some words I read, words that were written by people I thought were intelligent and well educated.  Our words are a direct reflection of our deepest beliefs and convictions. They can have the power to move, enlighten and educate, yet can also disturb, anger and ruffle a few feathers.  The old saying, “words can hurt” has been around for a long time for a reason: it’s true.

Let’s go back – way back – for just a moment.  See if you can translate the meaning of this passage from Geoffrey Chaucer’s  “The Canterbury Tales (1380’s):

“This frère bosteth that he knoweth helle,

 And God it woot, that it is litel wonde

Freres and feendes been but lyte asunder.

For, pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle..”

Give up? Here’s the translation:

“This friar boasts that he knows hell,

 And God knows it is little wonder;

Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.

For, by God, you have offttimes heard tell..”

Don’t worry if you couldn’t understand this passage.  Chaucer was a poet from The Middle Ages, so even us boomers weren’t around when he wrote it (small chuckle).

Portrait of the Friar from the Ellesmere Manuscript of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Words can change over time; sometimes new ones replace the old ones.  Perhaps they’ve become inappropriate, have negative connotations or simply change meanings because of cultural changes.

One example of the definition of a word changing due to cultural changes is the word “gay”.  In the 1934 movie musical “The Gay Divorcee”, “gay” meant lighthearted or happy.  It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that the meaning went through several transformations.  Today the word “gay” mostly refers to someone’s sexual orientation.

Cover of "The Gay Divorcee"

This week, as I quickly glanced at some Facebook posts, I noticed one post in particular from someone I barely knew.  Reading it sent shivers down my spine.  There were only six words:

The Kardashians is a retarded show.”

The mere mention of the “r” word instantly reminded me of being back in elementary school.  There was a class across the hall from mine where all the (insert “r” word) students were.  That’s what my classmates called them.  Hearing it always made me sick to my stomach.

In the late 1960’s, there were no IEP’s, no diagnoses of OCD or ADHD, no self-contained classrooms for children with learning disabilities.  Today when I think about that classroom, it saddens me to think of how those students and their parents were treated, and what they must have endured.

So I would like to say to the person who wrote the post about The Kardashians: Shame on you.

Here are a few other words that have changed over time:

  •  Handicapped to Disabled: After The Crimean War, the British Parliament made it legal for returning veterans, permanently hurt in the war, to beg for money on the street.  They placed their “cap in hand” = handicapped.  This word is no longer acceptable, and does not appear anywhere in The Americans For Disabilities Act. The word “disabled” has replaced “handicapped.”
  • Victim to (Fill in your own word): This is a pet peeve of mine.  I recently read an article focusing on the recent diagnosis of a famous person with Multiple Sclerosis as being a “victim.”  We are not victims as in a victim of a crime. We are people with a chronic illnes. 
  • Spam: In an episode of M*A*S*H, the animal-loving Radar O’Reilly sent a lamb back home to Iowa before it could be slaughtered.  The cook, covering up for the missing dinner, prepared a SPAM ham.  Yes, before computers, the word “SPAM” was best known as a pre-cooked, canned “meat product.” Ugh.
  • Commode: From a piece of furniture standing on legs to a toilet.
  • Fag: A British term for a cigarette, it was later used as a slur against effeminate men. I always hated that word.
  • Friend: Prior to social media, a friend was your ally or someone you trusted and cared about. Today it’s used as a verb, meaning someone you may not know or perhaps even met.  

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“Kind words do not cost much.  Yet they accomplish much.” ~Blaise Pascal

Do you have words that you dislike?  Are there other words you can think of that have changed over time?

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DISCLAIMER:  Comments from An Empowered Spirit are brought to your attention on topics that could benefit you and should be discussed with your doctor or other medical professional. I am not medically trained and my posts are of a journalistic nature and not in lieu of medical advice. An Empowered Spirit and its author will not be held liable for any damages incurred from the use of this blog or any data or links provided.

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23 thoughts on “Choosing Your Words Wisely Will Empower You And Those Around You

  1. Jackie DeMuro

    Great post, Cathy.

    I have had to break myself of the “R” word and the “G” word, as I grew up using them, (never to describe individual people or groups of people!) as descriptors. As in, “Why isn’t this thing working? Is it retarded?”
    Or,
    “Are you going to the prom with your cousin?”
    “Why, no. That’s so gay.”

    Seriously, I never thought about them as slurs, until I twice used them in the presence of people who mistook my North Jersey-speak as something other than just part of my speech pattern derived from the culture from which they arose (1970’s Essex and Hudson counties) and pigeonholed me as being a narrow-minded insensitive bigot. As I am neither, I had to make a concerted effort to choose a better way to say some things.

    I will admit, though, to sometimes falling back into these speech patterns when I am with a childhood friend. I really do try to watch myself. Because I really don’t want to offend anyone, even accidentally.
    Jackie DeMuro recently posted…A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating a Restaurant MenuMy Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Hey, Jackie,

      We were brought up in the land of “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” and people like The Hoffa Family, etc. My dad, an attorney, is a total gentleman in every sense of the word. He represented North Jersey trucking industry (management side) and had meetings with some of the Hoffa’s, etc, where every other word was “f”. He once asked them to refrain from using those words. Scary! They respected him so much they did it. So anyone can be reformed.(Just thought I’d share that story cause it’s amusing.)

      I am so glad you read my post and left your thoughtful comments. It means a lot to me.

      Best to you~
      Cathy

  2. Donna Highfill

    I love words like “loquacious” and “perspicacious.” I think that comes from my love of Mary Poppins and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I’m not sure if any of those are spelled correctly, and have two blogs to complete, so I’m not going to have time to check. But I love your blog, and I love how you love words. P.S. My husband uses the word “fagged” as “to be tired.” I have asked him to stop using the word since it alarms our children.

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Donna,

      I do love words – just like you! (Boy, we ARE really getting to be more and more like Irish twins.)

      Seriously, whenever I hear a word used that I like, I tell my husband. He’s also a writer so I am glad he doesn’t think I’m crazy. The tough part is using the word correctly. That’s why we have to read, read, read!

      Thanks so much for reading my post and leaving your thoughtful and generous comments.

      Cheers~
      Cathy

  3. Ginger Kay

    I agree with you, Cathy. I would add “idiot” to that list. In today’s vernacular, it seems to mean “anyone who has inconvenienced me in the slightest way,”or, “anyone who disagrees with me,” but it remains an unkind description which connotes superiority and dismissal of another’s worth.

    I know I am terribly old fashioned in this, but I also dislike the obscenities that pepper so much speech and writing today. There are more descriptive words to use. I don’t understand the appeal of vulgarity.

    (I sound rather like Cousin Violet, don’t I?)
    Ginger Kay recently posted…My childhood homeMy Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      You are not old-fashioned. I wholeheartedly agree with you. The generation of my son and his peers are growing up with TV shows that use those words as often as we use appropriate ones. I don’t think Hemingway or Steinbeck would have approved!

      Thanks for reading my post and leaving your thoughtful comments.

      Best to you~
      Cathy

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      I agree, Emily. It rocks me if someone says it. There should be a better way to express yourself other than saying those two ugly words.

      Thanks for reading my post and leaving your thoughtful comment.

      Best~
      Cathy

  4. Sharon Greenthal

    Tweet used to be what a bird does…now it’s form of communication. Language is fascinating because it’s so fluid and ever-changing.

    Your Chaucer poem reminded me of my traumatic Early British Lit class in college – how I hated trying to understand what those archaic poems said. Such torture.
    Sharon Greenthal recently posted…How My Son Surprised MeMy Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      I’m with you on the Chaucer thing, Sharon. Pure hell.

      A good word to point out – tweet – whose meaning has changed as technology and social media evolves. Thanks.

      Thank you for reading my post and leaving your comment.

      Best~
      Cathy

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      It IS interesting, Jennifer. Every generation brings in new words and weeds out old ones. It could be a fascinating historical study of words within our culture.

      Thanks for reading my post and leaving a comment.

      Best~
      Cathy

  5. Walker Thornton

    Words have so much power! This is a nice way to examine words and how we use them. Victim is a very emotionally charged word when it comes to the crime of sexual violence. Many people refuse to use that word or take that ‘label’ so we often say, those who have experienced sexual violence.

    I lived in New Zealand for a year. On our arrival after hours and hours in a plane, with a 7 week old baby, I went to the little convenience story around the corner. I came home in tears saying that I didn’t understand a word they were saying! There’s English…and then there’s English!
    Walker Thornton recently posted…You See My Nipples? I See Your Package-Gee, It Looks Kinda SmallMy Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Walker,

      You are so right about how powerful words can be. I am glad people are using the phrase you referenced about being a victim instead of labeling someone as a victim. No one deserves to suffer something twice.

      Funny story about your arrival in New Zealand. I’d love to hear more about your time spent in that beautiful area.

      Best to you~
      Cathy

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Two great minds thinking alike, eh Janie?

      So glad you read my post and left your comments. Always nice to hear from you!

      Have a great weekend~
      Cathy

  6. Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs

    Excellent post, as always! I agree with you on all, though I must say I never knew how the word handicapped came along. Very interesting. The R word? Grrrr!! Makes me so angry. To be honest, I hadn’t thought of the use of it too much (yes, ignorant, I know) up until several years ago when I met a woman with a mentally challenged adult child. Completely changed my thinking. Words CAN and DO hurt, far too often.

    And I’m with ya, sister, on the not being a “victim” of MS. Eff that S**t. (How’s that for words?) 😀

    Great post!
    Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs recently posted…What I learned this week: Love in actionMy Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Lisa,

      You really do ROCK. That is my “r” word of the day. Lisa rocks! I love your last line describing how you feel about the word (ugh) “victim.”

      Thanks for reading my post and leaving your thoughtful comments.

      Have a wonderful weekend~
      Cathy

  7. Beverly Diehl

    Not a fan of the word victim (or worse, sufferer). I’m thinking we need some new words, because while the term “people with the chronic condition MS” (or rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder) sounds better, it’s a bit clunky, and sometimes writers are up against a word count.

    Even for people who’ve experienced terrible crimes: mugging victim, rape victim, incest victim – there’s something weak and helpless and demoralizing about the word victim, while terms like rape survivor, assault survivor, sound to me a little too “Rah-rah, go team!” There ought to be a better way to describe that you have an illness, or were assaulted – and while these things still greatly impact you, they do not wholly define who you are.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted…Five Favorite Books – ONLY Five ?!My Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Beverly,

      I absolutely agree with you. Sometimes words that are used are not strong enough in what they are intended to describe. How do we introduce new words we think are more appropriate? I am sure they must start somewhere. Hmm..

      Thank you for your very thought-provoking comments. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your thoughts with me.

      Best to you~
      Cathy

  8. Sharon

    What an interesting post! My son is currently taking a college course entitled, “Language and Discrimination” in which they have been discussing everything from how words change in meaning to words that now fall into the category of hate speech. Of big concern to his peers is the fact that the “older generation” continues to use words that are now considered hateful and that it is hard to get them to change. Although I do try to be very careful about the words I choose, I sometimes miss the days when words had simpler meanings and one, simply by using common sense and respect for others, could converse without worrying about using the wrong word.
    Sharon recently posted…The Classic Woman: Vacation EssentialsMy Profile

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      That must be an interesting course, Sharon. Our generation does have so many words that have changed over the year. Not all for the better.

      Some words, as I wrote, make me angry and frustrated over the inappropriateness of them and how they are used.

      We all have to use our words correctly. As our mothers used to tell us, once we say them we cannot take them back!

      Thank you for reading my post and leaving your thoughtful comments. Good luck to your son.

      Cheers~
      Cathy

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