The power of words


A while ago I had a heated exchange with someone of Facebook, I know that’s hardly something new. Don’t worry I’m not going to re-hash the whole argument, but basically he was against something he classed as abuse. I felt quiet strongly it wasn’t abuse and by calling it that it lessens the impact of the word. He strongly disagreed with me.

Unfortunately, abuse is something I know a fair bit about because of my job. We have to have annual training on it. After the exchange it did make me think how we use a powerful word in a throw away fashion and how that can be quite dangerous. I remember Richard Dawkins describing sending children to Sunday school and similar religious education groups as child abuse. At the time it made me quite angry and still does. I’m an atheist so it’s not in defense of religion that made me cross but it somehow lessened the impact of what real suffers of abuse went through. Being bored out your mind for a few hours on a Sunday is not abuse, nor is being made to eat vegetables or going to bed early. Yet some people will happily bandy the word around as if by saying something is abuse they somehow trump anyone else’s argument.

There are other terms that I sometimes think are over used such as sexism and racism. I have been very careful here being a white male as I can’t ever claim to have experienced either. I have noticed a trend of white people crying racism recently. Being a middle class liberal I’m obviously against both and find them quite disgusting but again the terms are in danger of being over used and losing their impact.

I can think of one quite clear example. A female politician was recently answering question to some ghastly presenter for something like Fox or Sky news and got asked a series of stupid question about who was the foreign minister for France. She refused to answer them, quite rightly in my view, saying if the interviewer wanted her for a pub quiz to get in touch after the show but she was here to answer serious questions. She later accused him of being sexist. The thing was he wasn’t being sexist, he asked the same pointless questions to male politicians. There is a lot of sexism in the media particularly when commentators make a big issue about what female politicians are wearing or ask questions like; How do balance your career with running a home? By calling the interview sexist simply because you don’t like his questions, in my view diminish the meaning of the word sexism.

Or could just be me worrying far too much about this sort of thing.


15 thoughts on “The power of words

  1. I think you make a very good point indeed. When powerful words like these are thrown around as a defence mechanism, or to legitimise a personal view or standpoint, it diminishes the true meaning of the word and also the real victims of such things. It is a cowardly and lazy technique – these days it seems that having to defend oneself against claims of sexism, racism or any plethora of other ‘isms’ is as good as confirming that there is something to defend.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Hi Eric,
    When you use the examples in your post, I agree using sexism or racism is stretching it. In saying that, I think there is so much sexism, racism, and bigotry within America that continues to be overlooked.Have we forgotten about recent shooting? Not just the issue of the Police against the African-American community, you need to include government’s ignoring the shooting within their communities. These critical issues have been put on the back burner while our political races have played out. Unfortunately the problem and the lack of attention it needs has not gone away. The issue of inequality of women and the way so many men treat women is still with us. Bigotry is an issue which spans all social-economic areas of our country and we continue to ignore it. So in my opinion, if the over use of these terms, keeps the unresolved issues in the forefront, then we need to continue over using them. Thank you for letting me stand on my soap box once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you about the current problems facing the world. I would also say we should all ways call out racism and sexism when it occurs. Where I think we disagree is that I think over using the words lets the unresolved issues be swept under the carpet.

      Thanks for you comments it is always good to talk about these kinds of things in a sensible fashion. Please feel free to get on your soap box on my blog any time you feel like it.


  3. I try to put this very point across to the children at school (and often parents) on a weekly basis. Their favourite word to throw around and misuse is ‘bullying’. Many parents will report their child is being bullied and something has to be done. Quite right… if it is bullying. But more often, the child goes home and says they are being bullied when all that really happened was another child pulled a face at them. Once.
    As someone who was severely bullied and has witnessed it elsewhere, it angers me and as you say, lessens to real meaning.
    So I completely agree with your standpoint. And depression. That’s another one that diminishes those that truly suffer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t think of including bully but you are spot on with that. I have known staff to over use it as well. You make a good point about depression, to easily dismissed as having a bad day, which it most definitely is not. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t really spoken on this topic (mainly because I don’t want to deal with people that cannot have rational and sober discussion) however I agree with you. There are power in word and when you don’t understand the meaning on context of a word, you lessen its power. While there is sexism and racism in the world today, simply using those terms in a blanket manner does no one any favors and lessens the seriousness of those ideals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So far its been quite a friendly discussion but I know what you mean I had to think carefully about positing this. I have been sitting on the article for several weeks before I plucked up the courage to post it.

      One of the thing I like about blogging, you can have a sensible discussion with out agreeing but not resorting to insults. Whereas Face book…….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a most perceptive post and highlights a frequency to use words or phrases which have a certain ‘quality’ to them with the only intention being to try and appear superior.
    Two other examples I have noticed of late, first usually on social media:
    If a person responds promptly to an accusation personal or against their group the accuser promptly writes ‘You’re being a bit defensive aren’t you?’. For a start off it suggests the accuser has in mind there must be some mandatory pause of time before responding. Secondly the accuser is actually using tautology, because if you do reply with a counter argument by definition it is a defence, thus defensive. It would seem their response translates into ‘You are not supposed to reply to me. I am right you are wrong’.
    The other one which crops up in social media, on TV and so forth is the notorious ‘Passive Aggressive’ charge. In TV it usually indicates lazy writing under the pretence of wit. In debate it is normally used against a person who persists in replying politely and rationally. What the accuser is expecting is a ranting & frothing so they can prove the accused is illogical. This one I find particularly annoying and distasteful as it is a known psychiatric condition which requires a careful medical examination and diagnosis by professionals and not hurled about by some disappointed lesser debater.
    You are quite right to raise this issue. Too many folk are using these terms in a counterfeit way. Language does change of course, but normally in a slow and sometimes subtle way; this rush to use words is simply inflammatory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with most of what you say, particularly with defending your self. I think people do use terms like passive aggressive without understanding what they really mean. The problem is nowadays any halfwit can get in-front of camera and spout nonsense. You you to have to be elected to be heard if you where a fool.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “any halfwit”. How true.
        In my very grumpy moments (I specialise in grumpiness, now being over 65), I would amend that to ‘Every Halfwit does…’
        Keep up the good work with your blog!

        Liked by 1 person

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