Ever feel like you didn’t have control of things? Maybe it was things that were happening. Perhaps it was something you couldn’t quite pinpoint. Maybe it was even yourself. I know I’ve felt this way before.
My daughter has a book entitled, Frindle by Andrew Clements. The story is about a boy who makes up a new word for a pen (he calls it a Frindle) and the impact that has. It brings you to question why the names we have for things are what they are. It’s an interesting but not new or novel concept. The book is a good read and if you have kids, I would recommend it. Did you know every year new words are added to the dictionary? Yes, there is even a list of the new words published annually. Check it out here.
A couple of my favorites from this year are ‘dad joke’ and ‘inclusive’. How though does it occur that a new word comes to existence? In the book, Frindle, it explains that society agrees upon what the meaning of a word or phrase has like, ‘dad joke’. Therefore friends, WE make it real and give it meaning. We DO have power! Getting recognition in the dictionary is just icing on the cake. Meaning is assigned to a word before it’s a word that we all know, before we can agree about what it means and certainly before it can be recognized officially. Think about that for a sec. I’ll come back to this.
They say the English language is the most complex to learn for various reasons. One of those is that we have multiple meanings assigned for the same word. For example, the word ‘school’. I could be referring to the institution created to facilitate education, a group of fish, or as a verb-in this instance; my attempt to take you to ‘school’. Another complicating factor is that some words don’t logically make sense, such as driveway is where you park but parkway is where you drive, or the plural word for mouse is mice instead of mouses but yet the plural for a computer mouse is mouses not mice. Don’t believe me? Look it up! I’m just going to call it like I see it, we did this to ourselves. You, me, our ancestors (humanity) created these words.
For all intensive purposes, we had the power and we made things so complex. Kudos to us though for assigning meaning to words such as friend, family, fun, joy and love. If we are going to celebrate the good ones, we have to take responsibility for the negative. We’ve also been the reason there are words like holocaust, hate, crime, violence, abuse, rape and any other derogatory word you can think of. We’ve established that we have the power to create and assign meaning to words. Sure, YOU didn’t make these words up, but we (humanity) did. Therefore, we have an obligation here.
Let’s flip and reverse this like Missy Elliot. I realize this reference will not resonate with everyone. I’ll explain-Missy Elliott is a musical icon of my generation. My guess is, even if someone my age didn’t listen to this genre of music, they would know who she is and which song I am referring to. In the song, there is a phrase that on first, second and perhaps many times after hearing it just sounds like complete nonsense. When put into context though you realize she tells you right before she says it, “flip it and reverse it”. When this clicks, you realize the nonsense word, is in fact something flipped around and said in reverse. Here’s the original video for those who’d like to be schooled and another just because it is so EPIC that it went viral!
What I’m getting at here is that we have the power to create words and we also have the power to render them meaningless. Not in the sense that the word actually has no meaning, more like it is no longer relevant. For example, my daughter doesn’t know what a cassette tape is. Just like you probably don’t know what a growlery is. In truth, I had to look that one up. It doesn’t mean that those words don’t have meaning or value. In fact, I would argue the opposite. The same way that we had to understand gravity before we had airplanes, aerodynamics or space travel. We learn, grow and build upon prior knowledge. For my daughter and the illusive cassette tape; she doesn’t have one, nor do her friends or anyone she knows for that matter. The word still exists, has meaning and value, she just has no context for it. That’s the power we have with words. The power to render a word meaningless. Congratulations again humanity, you’ve flipped it and reversed it.
Now think of all the negative, hurtful and offensive words you can. The words you’ve heard, thought, or (cringe) said to someone else or even yourself. I’d pause here, but I’m certain we’d be here a while. Also, I’m no priest and don’t want this to become a confessional. What I do want however, is for you, me, we (humanity) to think about that. Then consider using your power to begin to render those negative words meaningless by eliminating them from our words-whether spoken or thought. The power is ours friends. Do something monumental, by not doing it.