Words. Mean. Things. (So use them properly!)

Words. Mean. Things. (So use them properly!)

I've seriously considered getting the phrase "Words mean things!" tattooed down my left forearm. I've lost count of the number of times I've said it, so it would probably be easier at this point to just roll up my sleeve and point. (And in case you're wondering, it would have a sister tattoo on the right arm: "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Though that's a rant for another day.)

It might be because I'm pedantic jerk, but I like to believe it's because I have a healthy respect for words. It hurts my soul when people don't realize how important words are to our understanding of the world, our relationships, how we behave, and how all those things interact. Too many people take words for granted, I say! There are lots of examples or illustrations of this, but "the bee noise" from tumblr is by far my favourite:

But be(e) nice to bees; we need them!

But be(e) nice to bees; we need them!

Words have power, and we have a responsibility to wield them carefully. It's been nearly 200 years since Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase "The pen is mightier than the sword," but it remains painfully true. From our most intimate relationships to international diplomacy, our word choices can be the difference between peace and war. If everything we do is communication, you better believe what you say matters right down to the last detail.

Part of the reason I insist on serious consideration of audience is because you need to understand them to make sure you're choosing the right words. You may be using a word that is technically correct, according to the definition (the denotation), but if you don't consider the unwritten or underlying meaning of the word in a cultural context (the connotation) you can end up with a real mess on your hands. Have you seen the episode of Friends when Joey wrote a letter of recommendation for Monica and Chandler for the adoption agency? If you're not familiar, Joey decides his original letter doesn't sound smart enough, so he breaks out his thesaurus. It's all downhill from there. There are times where a full-sized aortic pump can mean "big heart" but that letter isn't one of them, and "Baby Kangaroo Tribbiani" is still cracking me up 15 years later.

If you're lucky, the wrong word choice gets a few laughs and is chalked up to a misunderstanding, but we aren't always so lucky. The wrong word choice has created problems for politicians, spouses, celebrities, and friends since time immemorial.

Careful word choice is also why public relations can give itself a bad name; there's a reason people sneer and call PR pros "spin doctors." You can say something that is technically true and correct while giving a completely different impression of what you're saying. Words are tricky that way.

So yeah, words mean things. And if we use them properly we can make a difference. That's why I strongly believe that words and how we use them can change the world. It's also why I've dedicated myself to doing just that. If I may say, I've got a gift for seeing the many angles and points of view to a story or statement, and can figure out whether you're saying what you mean to say, or about to put your whole foot in your mouth. If you could use a hand with that, get in touch!

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