I should have been a linguist. I am deeply, fervently and completely in love with words. So are lots of other folks, given all the quotes I see under people’s email signatures lately. In the suburbs, I hear lots of parents saying “use your words” to their kids, and I find myself saying “Listen to my words” in an attempt to be heard, mostly by children uninterested in listening. Jewelry adorns us with the glittery words of “mom,” “sister,” and if you are in grade school, “BFF.” Tattoos have been proliferating upon suburban moms’ shoulders, hips, low backs and wrists lately. And as I read them, I am struck by the power of the words inked permanently onto their bodies: “passion,” “purpose,” “strength,” “grace,” and one I saw on a woman’s shoulder that said bulletproof. Wow. For a word like that to be placed on your body, you must have dodged one or two in your life. The fitness industry bombards us with words as well, to get us to buy their products and to subscribe to their dogma (and therefore buy their products, see how that works?) “strong,” “sweat,” “power,” “run,” and “life” are but a few. Color me inspired.
Having married a delightful Jewish guy, I have also been introduced to the decidedly brilliant Yiddish language. If you have ever called someone a “schmuck” or “putz,” you are speaking Yiddish. It might surprise you to know that both those words mean “penis.” Or maybe it doesn’t surprise you at all. For those of us who trip and make fools of ourselves on a fairly regular basis, the word “klutz” works nicely. A good Yiddish word like “chutzpah” embodies it’s own definition, if you say it loudly and gesture wildly enough. The same is true for the beautiful and graceful word for peace, or “shalom.” Much like the Sanskrit “namaste,” it makes you feel good just to say it.
My least favorite words (I just don’t like the sound of them):
My favorite words ever, although probably overused:
Let’s not even begin to discuss profanity. As you well know, I fucking love curse words. There is nothing as deeply satisfying as the appropriately placed f-bomb. As long as it is not around your children. Or your boss. Or your mother. A recent study in Scientific American asked participants to dip their hands into ice water and keep them in there as long as possible. Those who were allowed to curse actually reported less pain than those who were not permitted to do so. So you see, cursing actually improves your ability to tolerate pain! No shit! However, profanity must be used in moderation, otherwise the intense effect is blunted by overuse. Darn.
Words can, of course, hurt. Whoever said “sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me” was an idiot. I can still feel the sting of shame when I recall the word that kid called me on the playground, and a stick nor a stone was anywhere in sight. A friend of mine has spent the better part of her life trying to negate the effects of being called a “slut” in high school. There are ugly words too, yes. But good words can always help ease the bad when properly placed with a firm hug and a generous dose of humor. Or sarcasm. Or alcoholic beverages.
As for me, and for lots of other writers I know, words help me process the world. Words, in the form of a journal, this blog, a prayer or a letter, are a way for me to make sense of the world. They are a form of expression and a way of relating to others under a commonly accepted definition. Words I receive by way of a text or an email are lifelines of communication, when face to face is not an option. Those who have tattoos of words are caught by a glimpse of them in the mirror or while pushing an elevator button. You could be running late, pissed off at the world or trying to get to a meeting on time. And then. The word “breathe” comes up to meet you, on your wrist or within your own subconscious, and reminds you of the truth of who you are, and what you need to do for yourself. Words are powerful and they convey our thoughts in a succinct little package. How great is that!
What words do you love? What words do you despise? I’d love to know.
Until then, Shalom.
These beautiful photos and many others by Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood MaMa photos. She loves words, too.