Eat Your Words

A Deceptively Silly Syllogism

A: You are what you eat.

B: You have no doubt, at some point in your life, eaten your words.

C: You are your words.

The premises, obviously, are figurative. But the conclusion is nevertheless true.

Words are not just sounds that come out of our mouths. They both reflect and shape the way we think, and thus, who we are.

Words of Power

Read any fairy tale, fantasy, system of mythology you like, and you will see that words have power. Wizards do magic by means of words, whether for good or ill. Names contain and determine a person’s destiny.

If you want a better authority, look at the Bible. God created the universe through His Word. Do you suppose all power drained out of words after that? Far from it. Jesus assures us we will be held accountable for every idle word we speak (Matt. 12:36).

I will leave it to others more spiritual than I to exhort you to be careful of the content of your speech and to speak the truth in love. I’m going to focus instead on what I’m good at: the form of our speech.

Words Matter

The culture of “it doesn’t matter, it’s only [fill in the blank]” has definitely taken over with regard to the form of our speech. Most people—and I’m sometimes guilty of this myself—seem to choose words almost at random and fire them into the ether, blindly hoping the recipient will somehow sift through the morass and discern what the speaker actually wanted to say.

Jargon, slang, buzzwords, catch-phrases, clichés, and profanity dominate both spoken and written conversation. They flow through our ears making little impact, and they tell us nothing about the person we’re speaking with—except that that person either has no original thoughts, or doesn’t care to take the trouble to express them in more precise speech. Words like this have no power to penetrate the armor we encase ourselves in when we move among our fellowmen—in fact, they’re part of that armor.

As a writer, I’m forced to pay close attention to my words. If I get lazy and use any of the shortcuts listed above, my prose will lose its force and sink forever into the mire of mediocre writing. If I don’t say precisely what I mean, my readers will not figure it out. They will either keep reading without understanding, or they will stop trying and read the work of some other writer who communicates more clearly.

Wouldn’t you prefer the people you communicate with to receive the precise message you intended to convey? Wouldn’t you like to use real words, fresh words, words that have the power to break down the barriers between people and create true relationships?

Watch Your Mouth

If your speech is full of professional jargon, it may indicate your primary focus in life is on your work—and you don’t much care about anyone outside of it. If your speech is full of the slang belonging to a particular group, it may mean you want to declare your belonging to that group—and shut out those who don’t belong.

If your speech is full of profanity, what does that mean? It may mean you want to belong to a group that uses profanity—which, these days, is practically everybody.

When I was an adolescent, profanity was a form of rebellion, a way of saying to “the Man” that we didn’t care about his rules, his artificial standards, his superficial, hypocritical piety.

Now my generation has grown up and become “the Man.” In many cases, our kids can’t be using profanity as rebellion, because they’ve heard it at home all their lives. Now it’s not so much a way of saying “I belong to this particular minority group” as a way of saying, “I don’t want to be different from the majority.” It used to be nonconformist; now it’s the new conformity.

But what does it do to our brains if we say “s—” when we really mean “stuff”? On some level, it means we actually regard all of God’s marvelous and beautiful creation as nothing better than excrement. What does it do to our hearts if we use “f—ing” as a strong pejorative? It means we have devalued the sacred act of communion between a husband and wife into something not only valueless, but about as negative as you can get.

You Are What You Eat

So I exhort you, my friends, to follow that ancient and sage advice, “Think before you speak” (or email, or text, or Tweet, or post on Facebook). Think not only about what you are going to say, but about how you are going to say it. Use words that reflect, perhaps not the immediate, actual state of your heart, but what you know the state of your heart should be. Use words that respect the mind and heart of your listener.

Use words you won’t have to eat later.

 

This blog is part of the Orthobloggers Synchroblog for July 1, 2012.

Orthobloggers is a loosely associated group of Orthodox Christian bloggers. A synchroblog is an event in which many bloggers post on a single general topic at the same time—in this case, “How we use our words.” Other sites participating:

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This entry was posted in Writing.

13 comments on “Eat Your Words

  1. […] Cristina Perdomo (Orthodox Christian) of Reachingfromadistance on “Cement” Dn Stephen Hayes (Orthodox Christian) of Khanya on “What’s that you were saying?” Susan Cushman (Orthodox Christian) of Pen & Palette on How We Use Our Words: “Christian” is Not an Adjective Katherine Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God Haunted Fiction on “Eat Your Words” […]

  2. […] Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God Haunted Fiction on Eat your Words Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Faith, Fulminating and tagged […]

  3. […] Katherine Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God-Haunted Fiction on Eat Your Words […]

  4. […] is Not an Adjective” * Katherine Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God Haunted Fiction on “Eat Your Words”  * Annalisa Boyd (Orthodox Christian) of The Ascetic Lives of Mothers on “The Words of My […]

  5. […] Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God-Haunted Fiction on Eat Your Words […]

  6. There’s an additional reason for using specialist jargon, well-described by Stanislav Andreski in his book Social sciences as sorcery:

    “The attraction of jargon and obfuscating convolutions can be fully explained by the normal striving of humans for emoluments and prestige at the least cost to themselves, the cost in question consisting of the mental effort and danger of ‘sticking one’s neck out’ or ‘putting one’s foot in it’. In addition to eliminating such risks, as well as the need to
    learn much, nebulous verbosity opens a road to the most prestigious academic posts to people of small intelligence whose limitations would stand naked if they had to state what they have to say clearly and succinctly.”

    • Katherine Hyde says:

      Indeed.

      • Chris Moorey says:

        Absolutely brilliant. I hope it’s tongue in cheek. If it is it ranks with Churchill’s wonderful legpull: “Ending sentences with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

      • Katherine Hyde says:

        Chris, I assume you’re referring to the opening syllogism? Yes, that was certainly tongue in cheek. I love and often quote Churchill’s remark and am honored to be mentioned in his company.

  7. matelizabeth says:

    Wonderful post and excellent thoughts. I especially liked, “Use words that reflect, perhaps not the immediate, actual state of your heart, but what you know the state of your heart should be. Use words that respect the mind and heart of your listener.” A very good thing for us all to remember!

  8. Chris Moorey says:

    I don’t know if it was original but British politician Paddy Ashdowne once quoted this prayer: “Oh Lord, please make my words sweet. I may well have to eat them some time.”

  9. […] (if you happen to be one) would never dream of saying yourself. I’ve talked about this elsewhere, so I’ll just say briefly: I think profanity of any sort should be used in fiction very […]

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