Sunday, April 21, 2024

Words Matter…

Words are important. The words we choose to use, how we choose to use them, and the context in which we choose to use them are all critical to clear and accurate communication. As someone who writes for a living, I have noticed that many words we use have lost their true meaning, they have lost their true value; if words were swords, many words have lost their edge.

Several years ago I was given a t-shirt as a gift, the kind of item you might buy for a writer or an English teacher. On the front of the shirt it reads ‘Misuse of ‘Literally’ Makes Me Figuratively Insane‘. A fun shirt that is good for a laugh, but there is truth in the fact that we have used many words in ways they should not be used, and we do so with such frequency that it is fair to question the meaning of words that we hear.

Words like ‘genius’, a word once reserved for describing people of exceptionally extraordinary intelligence, though today it seems that everybody is a ‘genius’. Similarly the word ‘hero’, once used to describe folks who had taken on great risk to themselves in order to save others, though these days the word’s value has been diminished as a result of far too many being called a hero for the most minor of achievements.

Another word that we hear with great frequency, such frequency in fact that the word can often be scoffed at, is ‘corruption’.

I have been on this planet for more than half a century, and there was a time when the word ‘corruption’ was used sparingly, it was used to describe real misdeeds. The word had power, the word had meaning, however today it seems that the word is tossed around in any situation, and often without any truth.

I think we need to be careful with the words that we choose, we need to ensure that we are properly expressing ourselves, and when it comes to the word ‘corruption’ I think we have convinced ourselves that corruption is to be found everywhere we look. These days if someone doesn’t agree with us on an issue, then they are ‘supporting corruption’ or they are part of some grand conspiracy.

Don’t get me wrong, corruption does exist, but whether people want to believe it or not, it is relatively rare, and it certainly is not the norm. When we are referring to governments or the corporate world as ‘corrupt’ what are we really trying to say? Is every government official and every corporate CEO corrupt? Obviously not, but when the word is used, rarely is it backed up with any facts or data outlining just what the suspected corruption might be. ‘Corruption’ is a powerful word and it should be used sparingly, and it should be applied appropriately.

A recent letter to the editor, focused on the proposed pumped storage facility, used the word ‘corruption’. The letter writer implied that there was corruption taking place before our very eyes by governments and the corporate world, a heck of an accusation when no evidence is provided to prove said corruption.

While we are all entitled to our opinions, we should also be responsible in the words that we choose. I might feel that someone is corrupt, but without any evidence I certainly wouldn’t express that feeling in writing.

I fully understand passion. People are passionate about issues that are meaningful to them, but passion is no excuse for playing loose with words, we can be passionate while still respecting truth, and if we respect truth then we don’t make accusations that we can’t prove.

From this scribe’s perspective, the old saying of ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ is only as true as the words that are written by the pen, and if those words are misused, if we use broad brush strokes, then what value should we expect others to see in our words?

I have been writing for decades, and I have been in the world of municipal governance for decades, yet I have found few moments when I would even consider writing the word ‘corruption’. Shady, suspect, curious, there are many words we can use to express our doubts about someone or some entity without using words that carry the weight of ‘corruption’; to use the word ‘corruption’ requires follow up with an explanation of just what the corruption is, and what evidence exists to prove that corruption.

In my business we choose our words carefully, we must, because if we don’t, we won’t be taken seriously, and we shouldn’t be if we are irresponsible with the words we use – something to think about.

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