The Power of Words

Gazal - Lynnwood, Washington
Entered on November 14, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in the power of words. When spoken softly, kindly and with love, words can bring immense joy and feel like music but when uttered out of spite words can cut deeper than a knife. Words also influence perceptions. I can be thought of as intelligent or slow, witty or dull, rude or polite, sophisticated or uncultured based on what I speak. My language reflects how I think. In that sense- You are what you speak.

Words also reflect and influence the state of a society and its prejudices.

There was a man who was traveling in a car with his son when they meet with an accident. The man dies right there and son is taken to the ER. The doctor on call looks at the boy and says- ‘I can’t operate on him, he is my son!’ Can you explain the relationship between the doctor and the patient?

The answer is that the Doctor is the boy’s mother. The answer does not come naturally to a lot of people. I believe that the dominance of masculine nouns and pronouns in the English language is what makes this puzzle hard. Every time we hear, Doctor, Engineer, Rocket Scientist, Project Manager we tend to associate a ‘HE’ with it. Ossie Davis, the actor and the director in his book “The Language of Racism: The English Language is my Enemy” has talked about how there are many words in English language where negative connotations that are associated with darkness or blackness – ‘A Black day’, ‘The Dark Arts’ are some examples. And it’s not just English in my mother tongue Hindi the word for ‘husband’ in Hindi means ‘owner’. ‘Fair complexioned’ and ‘beautiful’ are used interchangeably all the time in poetry and prose. There is no respectable word for ‘gay’. No doubt that even today for most married people, marriage weighs strongly favors men, there is a very strong preference for fair complexion and being gay is a last resort joke in B grade movies that do not have anything else to offer in terms of comedy. I believe that if we were to coin new words for current demeaning words, it would go a long way in bringing about a change that has been slow to make an appearance.

The idea that words influence thought is not new. The ‘Theory of Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis’ suggests that the language one uses influences and even determines thinking. The theory was proposed by Sapir and Whorf .It has been criticized by those who believe that thoughts come first and then words are uttered. It is almost a chicken-egg debate. I believe that the interaction is two way. Children who cannot form their own thoughts yet will have different thoughts based on whether they hear ‘terrorism’ or ‘freedom struggle’.

By watching our words, we have the power to create balanced individuals and society. I believe in that power and the responsibility that comes with it.