Words, words, words

“What do you read, my lord?”

“Words, words, words.” (Hamlet, Act II, scene ii)

I love words: big words (antidisestablishmentarianism) and small words (pi, zed); pretty words (desuetude, bucolic) and even ugly words (snot, phlegm).

What I don’t love is misleading words, doublespeak whose main purpose is to deceive or confuse. This being the silly season of political “debates” and speeches, I am reminded that misuse of language is among the worst propaganda devices available. Calling janitors “environmental superintendents” in lieu of giving them a decent raise doesn’t do them much good. When a fee is added on to a ticket price and called a “non-voluntary contribution,” what exactly does that mean? When congressional pay raises are called “pay equalizations” and a $130 billion budget error is labeled “positive budget variance,” is there any other purpose than to deceive? Can we wonder why voters are disengaged, throw up their hands and skip the ballot box?

We have an obligation, as lovers of words, to be precise in our language and to hold feet to the fire of those who seek to mislead, obfuscate, and otherwise disrespect us. We have an obligation to help students to think deeply, question, and make informed decisions. We have an even deeper obligation to do so ourselves.



6 thoughts on “Words, words, words

  1. Written with much passion – the power of words, and the need to say exactly what we mean. Sometimes, students feel they need a bigger word – a 100 point word – when all they need is the right word. Sometimes “trek” does not fit in a piece where it would be better to just say “trip” or “journey.” Word choice is important in the world outside of school – at the workplace, in relationships, in public writing and speaking. I love the way you talk about our obligation to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so true! We have a wonderful language, so rich in words with many shades of meaning and very powerful in communicating and swaying others. I find one of the biggest challenges in teaching vocabulary is teaching the subtleties. Which synonym means exactly what you want to say? Which word applies to people and which to things? People can look haggard, but furniture looks weathered or battered. It’s a challenge, but worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

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