Use Words Wisely, But Use Them

Jan 3, 2017

"Use your words." Over the holidays, I heard this phrase spoken to children; but as adults I think we, too, need that reminder -- to take care in our conversations and be alert when we hear not just lazy language but also euphemisms that can skew reality.

Summer Brennan gives us some timely examples in her LitHub column on language and power: "A lie becomes 'a claim,' equality becomes 'identity politics,' a protestor is 'an economic terrorist,' a propagandist - 'a maverick.'"

Free speech is the right of everyone -- including those we adamantly disagree with but disagree, we must. George Orwell wrote that freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four. As ridiculous as it sounds, we have to defend that equation.

At a time when those soon to be in power of our democracy are manipulating language and denouncing facts -- and, moreover, finding a following -- laziness will make us vulnerable and jeopardize our human and civil rights.

Hateful speech that is not just modeled by those rising to the top but rewarded emboldens hate groups. Likewise, those of us who are worried sick about what’s going to happen after January 20th need to be emboldened even more.

Remember Claudius before he became Emperor of Rome? He insisted on documenting the truth in the face of civic upheaval and corruption. And here’s a curious parallel: In the fictionalized account I, Claudius by Robert Graves, there’s a prophesy from the Sibyl about the fates of the “hairy ones,” the Caesars.

Words carry power. Let’s use them wisely and loudly when we need to.

I’m Paula Garrett, and that’s my perspective.