The Importance of Words

A friend recently commented that the word “just” should be eradicated from one’s vocabulary. Initially that made sense to me and I was amused at how often I used it, and in how many different ways. I even wrote the last article without using the word, though it would naturally (for me) fit in so many places!

You’ve heard, I’m sure, that the word “should” isn’t part of a healthy mindset — or vocabulary either.

Words are important. Intention is important. Inflection is important too. Body language is also important.

But, whose rules are we communicating by, anyway? Words, in and of themselves, aren’t bad. So, why do we need to cut some words from our vocabulary?

I’ve chosen to cut “hate” from my vocabulary because I think it’s a powerful word that’s too easy to misuse. In my experience there are more precise words to use. I want to find gentler ways of communicating, so cutting that word from my vocabulary works for me. Your experience may differ.

It’s up to each one of us to decide what words mean to us and how to use them in our communications, so that we convey to others what we are truly intending.

Through the years there have been interesting lessons about word usage. Let me share some of them.

Many women in the women’s lib movement have decried the use of what they decided were gender specific words, like chairman or mailman. They feel “man” should be dropped and we should say chair person or chair, and mail person or mail carrier. My teasing counter to that is “son” is a gender specific word so we should drop that from words like person, and use perpeople instead. And what do we do with the word “woman”? Do we talk about a “woperpeople” or a “wo” instead? Too cumbersome, in my humble opinion. I get that language shapes our attitudes about situations and people, and being grounded in our communications will go a long way in helping shape sound conversations and education on these kinds of topics.

I was told by people in a sales group I belonged to that “fine” wasn’t a good word to use to describe my state of being because I should say that I’m great, top of the world, or fantastic! As they showed me how “fine” wasn’t a good word they mimed a sad, tired, or dejected person. When used that way, fantastic could be misconstrued too. My response was, and is, that “fine” is a wonderful word. We talk about our fine china and crystal, bakers use fine sugar in their delicate pastries because it makes for a better product, and many a person of high standards and moral character has been described as a fine person. It’s all in the intention, energy used, and intonation of the word that makes the word a “fine” one to use, or not.

The Apartheid and Black movement talked about the importance of words. Steven Biko talked about how black was a derogatory word: black magic, black sheep, black hat, etc. His impassioned speech, depicted in the movie Cry Freedom, to a South African court moved me, and taught me how powerful language is. What’s challenging is that, sticking with the term “black”, is that it comes in and out of vogue. Here in the US it’s been variously appropriate and inappropriate to call people black, Negro, and African American. Morgan Freeman is credited with saying that we should quit talking about race; he’ll quit calling you a white man if you’ll quit calling him a black man. Biko’s message is clear to me, but I’m not sure the word “black” is the problem. After all, people like their coffee black, their businesses to run in the black, and expert skiers thrill on black diamond runs. I think the attitude of the people he was talking to in the ‘60s and ‘70s was the real issue.

Words have the power lift us and to put us down — if we let them. To me, the bottom line is are you working to lift yourself up and keep yourself lifted? The words you use and the words of others you accept support your efforts to be strong, confident, and worthy, or undermine those goals.

When I’m on a medical call as an EMT and someone asks me for a decision, if it’s outside my scope of practice my answer can be something like “I’m just an EMT-B” without putting myself down. Yes, it would be more precise to say “I’m an EMT-B and that’s outside my scope”, but in the efficiency of language and conservation of time, that takes longer and expends more energy. And you know I’m all about conserving energy! I’m proud of my designation as an EMT-B. If the person I’m talking to takes exception and thinks I’m putting myself down, that’s their problem, not mine. If I was ashamed of my designation or jealous of someone’s more advanced designation, then “just” would indicate a problem, though the word is still a good word.

Here’s the message I’d like you to get from this discussion. Let your word usage be a guide to areas of your life that need attention. If you are weak in an area, focus on that area to fix the problem and change your attitude about the situation. You may decide the word doesn’t serve you well, but if it points to an area where you can improve, then I’d argue that it has served you very well.

Be attentive to your language. Be attentive to your inflection and body language as you talk. You can learn a lot about yourself through your choice of words, your vocal variety, and your posture — if you pay attention. You can energize yourself by choosing supportive words, using uplifting inflection, and using strong posture.

You “should” quit using specific words “just” when you think they aren’t serving you and are no longer “fine”.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Words”

    • Are you sure that BFA doesn’t stand for Bachelor of Fantastic Art, in your case? I’m a betting it does…..
      Can you imagine getting a BSA or BOA degree? Bachelor of Stupendous Art or Bachelor of Outstanding Art? That would be fun too, wouldn’t it.


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