A few weeks ago I decided to clean up my language or more accurately to pacify it. I am struggling to do so. (More)
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This pacification program started when I was speaking with two friends on the phone. We were talking about ‘the war on terror’ and the bombing in Boston on Patriots’ Day. I realized that perhaps the NSA or someone was flagging transcripts of our conversation based on the words we were using just discussing current events. I spent the first week watching and listening to how I and others spoke without any effort to change my way of talking.
I was appalled. Even speaking of a dinner with a friend at a local diner I said, “Well that hit the spot.” I could have said, “Well that was satisfying,” or “That was just what my taste buds wanted but didn’t know until I put it into my mouth.” Why did I use a fighting metaphor for food?
I was playing cards, blackjack actually and said, “Hit me.” I could have said, “another card please” but the lingo for that game is “Hit me.”
Richard Lederer has an excellent blog post at The Verbivore that shows just how thoroughly violent metaphors permeate our language.
When we tackle, wrestle and grapple with the problem of violence, we are bound to be struck by a crucial idea. If our view of reality is shaped and defined by the words and phrases we use, then violence is locked deep in our thoughts, frozen in the clichés and expressions of everyday life. “I’ll be hanged!” we are likely to exclaim as this insight hits us with a vengeance. “It’s like using a double-edged sword to cut off our nose to spite our face.”
Let’s take a stab at the issue of violence in our everyday parlance with a crash course on the words we use to describe disagreements. First, we rack our brains assembling an arsenal of arguments. Then we attempt to demolish the opposition’s points with a barrage of criticism, attack their positions by nailing them dead to rights, let them have it with both barrels and shoot down their contentions. We break their concentration by puncturing their assumptions and cut them down to size by hammering away at their weaknesses. We torpedo their efforts with barbed criticism and, when push comes to shove, assault their integrity with character assassination. If all else fails, we try to twist their arms, kill them with kindness and then stab them in the back.
I have been trying to change the way I speak for a couple of weeks now. It isn’t going well nor easily. I find myself pondering whether humans are violent by nature or whether our vocabulary primes us to respond with rage and outrage just by virtue of the words we use. I have managed to shift from saying “I want to beat Rep. Michele Bachmann” to saying, “I want to elect Jim Graves to Congress from MN06,” although the former is still true in a metaphorical sense.