Your mouth is poison; your mouth is wine. -The Civil Wars
This morning, while reading some of the push-back I received from last night’s post about the “R-word,” I realized that I may have been given to extremism in some places. So I wanted to clarify my point.
Here goes: Words matter.
Did you know that the words that come out of your mouth, regardless of your intention, have an effect on other people?
It doesn’t always matter that you “didn’t mean it” or that you were “just joking.” Sometimes, words just hurt.
I learn this every day from my wife when I carelessly say something that cuts her deep (I tend to be brash without realizing it). She is teaching me that I am responsible not only for my intentions but also for how I am perceived.
Of course, you can’t control other people’s reactions, but you can be aware of how your language may affect others. In light of this, I wanted to make a few points about words:
- I am not a prude. I am a fan of words. I love words. I can even appreciate a well-placed expletive to make a point. What I don’t like is when people are careless with words.
- This is not about political correctness (see Johnny Knoxville’s take on the “R-word” and political correctness in this video). It’s about respect.
- Context is important. There are occasions in which certain words are not offensive. If the veterinarian calls my dog a “b*tch“, I’m not going to gasp with shock and disdain.
- There are correct and incorrect ways to use any word. You should know what they are; choose wisely before opening your mouth.
- Habits matter. If I’m using a word privately, it may come out unintentionally in public settings. So there are some words that I just don’t use. For me, this is a matter of discipline and self-control.
- Laziness with words is an epidemic. The fact that the “R-word” is so widespread in our culture reveals how tragically unoriginal we are. We could be a lot more creative in our communication, if we tried.
As a writer, this issue of using words is dear to me. Words are beautiful tools, but when improperly wielded, they can be dangerous weapons. Words do, indeed, matter. Let’s take the time to learn how to use them well.
Do words matter to you? Why or why?
*Photo credit: Angie Garrett