This post has been rolling around in my brain for a bit and it is finally coming to fruition in response to a comment I got last week.
How much power do we give to words? We let them make our day, they make us smile or laugh, some make us cry, and some even ruin our day. Our inflection, tone, and timing make a tremendous difference in how our words are perceived and interpreted. One of the drawbacks to blogging, and writing in general, tone and inflection have little bearing on the words and their delivery.
Our writing has rhythm and flow, we know from reading an author what their general mood and themes are. But unless we hear them speak their words, we cannot hear their intended inflection. We can impose our own intentions on their written words and we often do.
So, why do we give so much power to as a single word? In my family, there’s a particular word my mother doesn’t like. We don’t say that word around her. Instead we substitute another word that we know has the same implied meaning. It has this implied meaning because we’ve made it so. This new word has no connection to the old word other than the meaning we have attached to it.
A lot of this is generational. A lot is societal. Some words just get a bad rap. I had a coworker who hated the word moist. My towel is moist after I shower. My skin is moist if I get caught in the rain. I have no idea why this particular word bothered her.
Words change meaning over time. In 1160 Anglo-Norman, Old French, and Middle French gai expressed happy, carefree, and cheerful. It changed spelling and meaning over time, but primarily meant noble, beautiful, excellent, fine, showy, and disposed to joy. Slowly other meanings began to show up. A prostitute was referred to as a gay lady in 1795 and in 1879 had been used to refer to a brothel. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of the word gay to refer to a homosexual wasn’t used until the 1920’s.
I recall in a communications class from college, we talked about the meaning we give inanimate objects. A table is a table only because that’s the word we have assigned and associated with that object. That object could be called sharon. Kids, could you please set the sharon so we can eat. I threw my mail on the sharon when I walked in the door. We had sex on every surface from the sofa to the kitchen sharon.
Do you recall Schoolhouse Rock? There was a song about interjections where Reginald got a shot. “Interjections (Hey!) show excitement (Yow!) or emotion (Ouch!). They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, Or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.”
Well… We can use any words to show those feelings of emotion. Reginald used the word ouch when the doctor gave him a shot, but what if he said door or jonah. JONAH!! It means whatever we assign to it.
Being offended because I called the table sharon or saying you hurt my jonah feelings makes no difference. The words are just that… Words. We chose to attach the meaning and emotion to them. We chose to be offended by them or not. They are just another way for us to express ourselves.
So y’all have a gay jonah day!
Do not link to this video if you are offended by words.