Friday, May 8, 2009

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

It’s fun to exaggerate as a form of expression. I do it all the time. When I say, “this ice cream is the best ever,” or “that movie was awesome,” I feel more passionate, more involved in life, happier and more satisfied. This is partly because when I was younger I was very shy and had extreme difficulty (no exaggeration) expressing myself. Being able to say what I feel is AWESOME!

There’s a burger joint in Cloverdale, California, that lies at the intersection of the 101 and the 126. Next to the building there used to be a sign (imagine one of those huge billboards from the side of the freeway, but down at car- and eye-level) that said in three-foot-high letters, “World Famous Hamburgers.” See a sign for the restaurant here (not the same sign obviously). Is it possible that these burgers are really famous the world over?

Though I don’t think there’s much harm in using a bigger-than-life word or phrase to express a positive feeling or market a product, there are some words we might consider more carefully before we use them.

I used to say “I’m starving!” as a way of emphasizing how much I was looking forward to a meal, until one day I thought about what that word really means. I realized how many people in the world could truthfully say they were starving, so I stopped using it out of respect.

Another hugely overused word: “hate.” I say it all the time – “I hate people who don’t use their blinkers,” or “I hate that actress.” Is it really hate I’m feeling, or just dislike or envy? Am I feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, or annoyed because something goes against my beliefs? When I use the word “hate,” my husband says, “Why you always hatin’ on everything?” (He doesn’t really speak like that, he just likes to use vernacular that he’s picked up from his coworkers.) He reminds me that words are powerful and that I should be careful with those especially strong words like “hate” that paint the world in black and white.

I’m going to start looking out for more of these words, words that have been used so often that they’ve lost their original meaning, and I’m going to try to restore some of that meaning for myself by using them more carefully. Let me know if you think of one I can add to my list …

1 comment:

  1. There's this whole movement called "Just Language" which was a big deal for me in college. A common thing people do with language is define people by their situation, such as the homeless, the hungry, or the poor. I feel better talking of people who are hungry or homeless or poor to keep in mind that we are all people first and that any of us could be in any of these situations at one time or another.

    Loved this post.