Word Abuse


Words matter. What we say, as Orwell writes, reveals our thinking, which tells what and who we are.

Our culture is being eroded by a wash of flotsam carried ashore by the internet and social media. Words, those necessary tools for everyday communication, have become weapons instead of bridges. They have become agents to abuse the disenfranchised, shock everyone, frighten many, and bring glory to one.

As an educator, I did not tolerate inappropriate language from students or athletes. If I heard inappropriate language being used, I reacted strongly. For instance, in a wrestling practice, if a wrestler used such a word (s), the entire team had to do push-ups or run sprints. Why? Because there were national rules against such action and if the wrestler committed such an act during a match, he would be penalized, and so possibly his team. The same in the classroom, where students were required to use language that reflected scholarship, not sloppiness. If, for instance, we were discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we never repeated certain words that were in the book. Why? Because just because a word was used in a book or poem or play was no excuse for us, students discussing the literature, to repeat the word in our class. The author used the word for a reason, but no reason existed for us using it in our examination. While retired, I know current teachers and coaches who have the same expectations for their charges. Appropriate language, I am glad to know, is still required of middle and high school children by the educators I know.

However, those same educators and children are, as I  wrote above, being assaulted by media. “Frigging” is now, it seems, an accepted substitute for that Anglo-Saxon word meaning sex. It is even used in a commercial for peanut butter. And anyone who wants can create an emoji displaying an array of inappropriate signs and printed language. That emoji is then sent out to any other like-minded person who regales such sadness.

Now, I am not a prude, but I am  all for appropriate language. There are places and times for language that communicates a thought or feeling. If I hit my thumb with a hammer in my woodshop, I likely will not say, “Golly, that hurt,” but something else a bit heavier. In the privacy of my shop, I would feel better for saying something with a bit more punch because I have in my vocabulary appropriate words to use in expressing my pain and anger on hitting my thumb. I know them and can use them, but not in a classroom, Sunday School room, with certain friends, or in s settings such as a restaurant. To do so would be inappropriate.  The where of  a word’s use is as important as its how.

However, such thinking is, as I wrote before,  under assault by many forces. The wonder of the internet has, for instance, made too much information or misinformation available to almost anyone. The battle against inappropriate language is made even more difficult when adults in the news, such as President Trump, use inappropriate language.

This week as he hosted the LSU football team in the White House, President Trump said: “Anyone who wants a photograph with me in the Oval Office later can have one. There is no place like the Oval. Many Presidents have sat behind the desk …, some good or not so good. But you’ve got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son-of-a-bitch.”

Now, don’t jump to the vile use of Trump’s in the White House. Examine his description of that seat of United States influence—the Oval Office. Think of all the important events that have taken place in that space—the signings of Presidential documents, discussions known and unknown, and so many other facts of American political life. Yet, the current President of the United States refers to this space as “the oval.” How small of him. And he then goes on in his ego driven hosting of the LSU team to use the third person language that he did. However, as far as I know, he has not been corrected for such language.

Luke 6:45 tells us that, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his  mouth speaketh.”

The good physician and Orwell tell us what we know to be true, yet we continue to allow this President to publicly share his evil through such language. Our passive action will cost us.

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