Words have power. Or so we're told. It's an old expression and with the passage of time, the expression must have increased in value so that it is now undeniably true, having, with said passage of time, acquired some amount of wisdom along the way. In much the same way that dirt builds up on your car as you drive it.
Words have power.
One of the reasons we are reminded of this wisdom has to do with a word's power to harm. It's not so much the "I love you's" and "you're the best's" that we're concerned with; it's the terrible words meant to hurt. "You are worthless and you will never amount to anything." Those types of words.
Words can also be threatening, causing fear and terror when applied by someone intent on causing harm. Words can anger, and words can calm the spirit.
But what if you take the words individually?
Isolated, they start to lose something, especially if you rob them of context. What about so-called dirty or offensive words? Sure, you could shout, "Asshole!" at somebody, but if you just put the words 'asshole' on its own, without context, without direction, and hell, without punctuation, it loses something.
When I was a kid, I remember playing a game where you would take a words, like 'rabbit', for instance, and you'd say that word slowly, over, and over, and over again. Eventually, it started to sound like 'just a sound'. Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit.
What does that even mean?
Do the same with asshole. Just say it slowly, and quietly (don't shout it), over and over again. After a while, it's just a sound. It has lost all it's power.
For a word to have power, it needs to be applied carefully, and in the appropriate setting. In Lewis Carroll's "Through The Looking Glass", Humpty Dumpty tells Alice, "'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
But a single naked word, devoid of context or sentence, is just a bunch of letters. Maybe it creates an image in your mind, but what does it mean, all by itself, sitting there on a blank page?
Which brings me to an exercise I'd like you to join me in, if you feel brave, bored, and maybe a bit curious. I'll suggest using Twitter for this because Twitter is ideal for short, succinct posts. You can, if you so desire, use any social network, but here's the experiment.
Pick a word. To make it interesting, pick a word that is, or can be, considered offensive. Type that word, by itself, all in lower case, and without punctuation. Add the hash tag #OneWordToOffend and post it. No explanation. No context. Just a word. Be creative. Some words have multiple meanings, sometimes vulgar (whatever that means) and sometimes harmless. Convince others to do the same. Remember the rules. One word. One has tag. I'm curious to see what happens if a large number of single, isolated words can be particularly offensive.
I will start. I'll pick a word that can be considered offensive or vulgar, representing something you do alone, by and to yourself, and yet sometimes in front of one or more people. Like writing. In this case . . .