Not ‘just’ words

Photo by Lauren Peng on Unsplash

When best-selling business author, Mark Schaefer sent out his latest blog post, he wasn’t prepared for the response.
 
‘I received more hate mail on this post than any other in the last 10 years. I didn’t see it coming. (Also received many compliments!).’ Mark Schaefer, LinkedIn. 
 
In, Hey Guys! Why every word matters Mark talked about becoming conscious of language and its effect on people, leading to changes in the words he uses.
 
That it generated such heated reactions from his global audience should not have been a surprise.
 
We are heavily invested in words.
 
We give them a life outside themselves, using them to define and shape our worldview. 

US professor of English, SI Hayakawa got it right when he said,

‘The meanings of words are not in the words; they are in us.’
 
The quote is from Hayakawa’s 1939 book, Language in Thought and Action, on how language affects the way we think and behave, often without us realising it.
 
And through the meaning we give to words and through our choices, we declare something to the world and to ourselves about who we are. 

Just take a look at a range of Twitter profiles…
 
Environmental enthusiast
 
I’m a fashion person
 
Writer, reader, mom
 
Blogger, Feminist
 
Change Champion
 
What Mark Schaefer stirred up when he made new choices about words, and wrote about it, was indignation.

His actions were taken as a rejection not only of the words but of the worldview that comes with them. And some people took the rejection personally.

I’ve had heated discussions over the way words are used, believing that it’s wrong to use a word to define a person instead of describing a facet of who they are. Such as, a person is not autistic but has autism.

When I read Mark’s blog, I thought ‘Hooray, another warrior for the words war.’

Words are not ‘Just’.

They are our armour and our weapons. They can also be the hand that extends across bitter divides. 

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