“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time” – Ernest Hemingway.
As an English student and qualified TEFL Teacher, I understand the importance of language, the qualities of which make it important, the uses of and flaws of it. I see the importance of it for communication, for expression, for understanding.
Yet something always perplexes me, why are we so hung up on some words? Words are but a series of letters, codes, to quote Derrida, signs that attribute to our sign system, encoding our ideologies and lives within them. But they are just symbols, a sound we make, to one another, a picture on a page.
We ascribe meaning to words. We created them, we adapted them, we invented them for our own purpose, so why be bothered by them, swear words spring to mind. Fuck, Shit, Bollocks, Ball Bags… Cunt. They are but words, but a series of letters and yet we place so much emphasis on them. Why? If we take away the meaning or their importance to us, then they cannot affect us.
I know you’ll be saying, it’s not the word, it’s the context, and that is totally true. The meaning, of a word, is only important in the context its said in. If someone tells you to F off, it’s the connotation of that phrase, rather than the word itself that causes the damage. But we created those connotations, the denotations of each word. We made them for self-expression, to describe something. As individuals therefore we have the power to react to them, to place importance on them as we see fit.
Words like race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, they are words that we use to describe an idea, yet their own linked words, become words of hate, their meanings evolve, adapt. They are used to hurt, to differentiate, to other as Edward Said would say. But then, don’t place emphasis on them. Take the word as it is intended.
We cannot stop people creating words to cause hurt, or to offend, Chav, Skank, Slut, they’re all words that we use to describe and to disassociate ourselves with others, but the second you choose to not be affected by them, you’re immune to them.
I swear, not continually but I do, sometimes the phrase, “I don’t give a fuck” can only express exactly the feeling I’m trying to explain. But it’s just a word, I’m using it for my own emphasis, with my reason, not yours.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying go out of your way to use words that offend, or to challenge those people who are affected by swearing or such, but if we could eliminate the meaning of words, if we could recast the connotations of phrases, how many words would become, just words.
We shouldn’t be so hung up on those with so little importance. We should focus on words like, loyalty, friendship, trust, truth love, integrity, morality, honesty, honour… pride. There are words that mean more to any of us than any swear, slang, or jibe could come close to. Place emphasis and importance on those. Do not us them when you don’t mean it, don’t degrade them with misuse or overuse.
I may have to eat my own words here, but as Churchill once said, “I have never developed indigestion from eating my own words”. A word is just a word. Take away your personal attachment to those that mean nothing, and place emphasis on those that you value, that represent and describe, you.
“Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth” – Friedrich Nietzsche