What’s in a word 

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.


Published by Lula Harp

I'm a mad scientist trying to find my tools.

13 thoughts on “What’s in a word 

    1. Thank you. I love research and reading. When I found out I could access the Oxford English Dictionary via my library’s website, I was a giddy girl. I’ll confess, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading it 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow. So I read the original post and comments to get more context, and wow. The commenter who asked to reconsider your voice because she doesn’t like it? RUN AWAAAAAAAYYYY!

    It’s sad how people accept and reaffirm the “taste standards” into which they have been socialised and consider them to be ironclad rules for interpersonal conduct. I knew a woman once who absolutely could not tolerate any variation of the word “fuck” because it had been used against her so often when she was being sexually abused. Around her, I was more mindful of what I said. But I have less tolerance for people who want to judge curse words based on some arbitrary notion of offensiveness or educational level or whatever.

    I mean, really. I think I’m going to start claiming that I can’t retweet anything with nouns because nouns offend me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very aware of the language I use in my workplace, and like you, when I am around people I know who are especially adverse. But sometimes it just feels good to spout off an offensive derogatory expletive. There’s just something about it. and it’s fun 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aaaand personally I find being “offended” by something like swear words or tattoos or short shorts or green hair or any other “unconventional” (although they’re actually pretty mainstream) things says “I don’t want you to express your individuality” or “I’m most comfortable when all the sheep look and act and think the same way” and so forth. People totally have the choice to not look at my purple hair and not read or listen to my swears; that is their right. And they can even judge me about it, right to my face, because I don’t get to tell them what they can or can’t say. But they do NOT get to dictate what I say or do, or to expect that I will change to please them.

        Now over at Robot Hugs, they will sometimes do a classroom-friendly version of their comics so that teachers (for example) can use them to discuss mental health or gender or other issues without parents losing their shit about “bad words.” (Whether or not they lose it over the subject matter might be another story, haha!)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It just goes back to that generational and societal thing I mentioned. They were such lemmings that only “bad” girls had tattoos, strange colored hair, and dressed like that. Now it really is just one more form of self expression, just like writing poetry

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. It always annoys me when people comment on *someone else’s* blog and complain about language used, or particular content they don’t agree with or like. A blog is personal to the person who’s writing to it, and you’re right to keep true to your voice and use whatever words you want. Okay, so curse words may not add anything to the post. But it’s better to use your own vocabulary when you’re writing something you feel strongly about.

    Are you interested in structuralism (in linguistics) by any chance? We had a great lecture at university where the lecturer renamed loads of different objects and talked about the way we name things, for example the way a “shed” is only a “shed” because it isn’t as big as a house, and so on. I love words!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: