Worn Out Words
Words we've thoroughly rinsed, repeated, wrung-out, wrinkled, and worn a hole in.
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The last few years has thrust upon us a bucket of words that have been poked into our mental crevices again and again. We now barely notice they are there, filling up the nooks and crannies we could otherwise stuff with more creativity, inspiration, passion, and usefulness.
Crisis. A crisis is an acute, short-lived emergency. Other problems are….just problems. Serious, chronic, existential even. But not a crisis. Constant use of the word crisis is….also not a crisis, but it is a chronic problem we can solve.
War on. Russia is waging war on Ukraine. Otherwise, the change from wishing people a merry Christmas to a happy holiday, or using someone’s preferred pronouns, is neither a war on Christianity nor a war on gender. It is actually just called being respectful. Ask your Mama about this. She will confirm.
Fascist. Socialist. Hurling a label at people who disagree with us politically as someone who exists only at the end of a spectrum of problematic political ideologies is the ultimate act of crying wolf. We need to use these words only when they specifically, literally apply, otherwise they cease to have the impact we need them to have when they are specifically, literally true. I am not a socialist. I am a bleeding heart liberal lefty snowflake thankyouverymuch.
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
Woke. Oh how I hate this word. Its origins are fine and good, but practically none of us are woke in the way that most people use it. Some of us are merely hesitatingly, imperfectly, wincingly trying to awaken. It will be a lifelong and unfinished project for just about everyone. If you are someone who uses this word as a cudgel, you could use a little awakening. With a cattle prod. For the rest of us, can we please just stick with progressive? We don’t need to use a word that is just begging to be weaponized.
Weaponized. Let’s stick to referring to actual weapons as weapons. Like AR-15s. They are a weapon. They are not a right of passage, nor a constitutional right, nor even a remotely sensible idea outside of the military. They are a completely unnecessary weapon of mass destruction. Used often against kids as it turns out. We should remain shocked by the use of weapons.
Thoughts and Prayers. Tell me your actual thought, your actual prayer. Otherwise, I refuse to believe that your platitude contains any real thoughts on how to solve the gun problem, or real prayers for the courage to act in our children’s defense. And both this sort of thought and this sort of prayer is necessary if you aim to convince people you care about grieving families.
On the other hand, there are words that uplift us and connect us and remind us that we can become the people and society we strive for.
Loving, Giving, Caring
Skilled, Smart, Informed
And perhaps the most overused word, but underappreciated contribution we can make is to be:
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” - Buddha