Tag: language

The texture of words

Chilean Fox Terrier

What is that magic air mover?

Words carry more than information. The words you choose change the texture, the flavor of the information. They change the way readers view the world.

For instance, my public speaking students frequently choose “Legalization of Marijuana” as a topic. (The fact that they have been choosing this topic for over 30 years says something about our nation, but that’s for another article.) The audience of college students has probably heard this discussed dozens of times in various settings. So I suggest instead they discuss “Relegalization of Marijuana.” That often makes audiences cock their heads, the way a dog looks at a ceiling fan. That recasting of the topic can completely change the way the speaker approaches the topic and the way the audience hears it. Continue reading

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Words matter: shaping the way you look at experience


Words are just words, and yet they are very, very powerful, because they shape the way you look at the world.

I contend that much of the challenge we face with health care in the United States results from a basic misapprehension that most of us never stop to think about: We keep talking about “health insurance.” Whatever it is, it isn’t insurance, at least not in any sense that most of us would recognize. Continue reading

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Only as Good as the Material: How to Write a Great Speech

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is a guest post from Katheryn Rivas.

The human psyche is a place of many quirks, idiosyncrasies, and phobias.  But of all the fears that loom in our collective minds, the fear of speaking in public remains the most terrifying to the average American, and is considered worse even than death by most.

Volumes upon volumes could and have been written about this peculiar fear, but what is often overlooked in these studies and inspirational tomes is the content of a speech and how it relates to the confidence one feels while delivering it.

It is true that a dull or timid performance of a speech can diminish its power, a bad speech spoken badly is even worse.  Examples of this abound, especially in popular media.  Consider a movie you expected to be excellent, given the actors and directors starring in it, but turned out to be trite, melodramatic, and cliché, even despite good performances. Even the most talented actors can only do so much with a poorly written script.

And the same holds true for a speech.  You might not be a brilliant orator, but if you craft an excellent speech, your audience will be much more likely to forgive your delivery, and will admire your rhetorical skills all the same. Continue reading

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Words matter

This is reposted from Guiding Your Special Needs Child.

People who know me well know that sometimes when angry I use impolite language. I’ve been known to say things that the average person would find to be profane, even obscene. I’m not proud of it; it’s something I struggle with.

Nevertheless, there are words I cannot bring myself to utter, words that I hear other people use almost routinely. Many of these other people happen to be older, but it’s not required. Many of them would be horrified if a teenager nearby dropped the “f-bomb” (I can’t say that I approve, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a crude word), and yet have little or no problem uttering a word that definitely leaves certain members of the human race feeling degraded, disrespected, dehumanized.

The N-word, as it is called, has almost dropped out of usage, and I am glad. I know that some rappers use the word in a defiant manner, and even that usage makes me uncomfortable, but at least they are practicing the strategy of subjecting a denigrating term to the kind of use that can turn it on its head. (Did you know that “Christian” was considered a derogatory term by Greeks and Romans who first used it? The early followers of Christ adopted it, though, and turned it into a term of honor.) Most of the few people I hear using the word these days at least seem to have enough sense to act a bit ashamed of it. It is so distasteful to people that we have, as a society, even shied away from the legitimate word that it twists and dishonors: Negro. The latter word carries with it the potential for offense, and hardly survives in the English language except in the names of such great organizations as the United Negro College Fund–and even there, it is hard to find the actual word, since almost everywhere except in the “History” links, the Website simply calls the organization, UNCF.

Not so a similar term that I hear people of all ages using with impugnity, a word I can hardly bring myself to utter and that equally denigrates a huge population of humanity, at least in their experience and their family’s. Students in my college classes, and even members of my own family who I know love my daughter, use the word “retard” or “retarded” to describe ideas, institutions, television shows, and all manner of other things they consider to be imperfect or lacking, with no apparent concept as to how it might affect my daughter if she were present, and certainly affects me.

The slang version of the term happens to be spelled the same way as the legitimate version. The effect for others is that they do not experience the word as demeaning the way the N-word is; the effect for me is to make the legitimate version as jarring and insulting as the slang version, so when we receive a letter from one of the state agencies that provides services for my daughter, and I have to open a letter from the “Department of Mental Retardation,” I feel a bit slimed, even though I know quite well that the people who work there work hard to help us take care of her.

Not out of political correctness, but out of concern for others as compelling as that which has driven the N-word underground, and out of the abundance of other more appropriate words to describe either the actual condition or perceived inadequacy and imperfection, I would like to ask you to join in the effort to eradicate the R-word from common usage. To see more about this, please visit the page put up by the Special Olympics organization. As it says, “Change the conversation… stop using the r-word.”

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