Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Words, words, words

They matter. My students are studying diction these days, and whether it's "rain" or "bad" in A Farewell to Arms or colors and a rich vocabulary in The Great Gatsby, words matter. We think a lot about how writers use words to create particular effects, but we don't often think about the effect of some of the words that we throw around has on others.

I am particularly sensitive to some words because of my experiences in life. And, while we won't be able to predict everyone's personal sensitivity, some sensitivities are shared by so many that we cannot continue to ignore those effects. When used in a derogatory way, the meaning of a word changes. The poison spreads and then, there is no good, positive context in which the word can ever be used.

So listen to the people whom this harms the most. Stop the R-word, in any context, around any person. It is a poisoned word and should be allowed to die. I will never say it again.


jennylu said...

Nice post Jennifer. Words are incredibly powerful aren't they, and the ones that hurt are ones we often remember the most. The 'R' word has left my vocabulary too.

J. Clark Evans said...

update: since writing this post I have heard two different people use this word. Just writing the post has raised my awareness. Was this a coincidence or is this word really used all the time?

Andy Carreior said...

My thought on derogatory language is not that the meaning changes, but rather that the meaning is lost. We react with speech and many times those reactions are automatic or mechanical. Frye comments on automatic babble in the last chapter of The Educated Imagination . He says, “There are many reasons, not connected with literary criticism, why nobody should use a phrase like that [referencing an offensive saying] about anybody. But the literary reason is that the phrase like that is pure reflex: it’s no more a product of a conscious mind than the bark of a dog is” (pg 66 – First ed.). Derogatory comments are those of the mob. There is no free speech in a mob, no original thought.