“Sticks and stones may hurt my bones
But words will never harm me…”
That defiant 19th Century children’s chant is wishful thinking. Words can be weapons of personal as well as mass destruction, resulting in long- lasting wounds. If you have any doubt about this, consider the effect of President Trump’s vulgar dismissive words about people of different color, which have inflicted pain on Haitians , Africans and everyone who respects human dignity. ( Ironically, the children’s chant originated in a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church!)
We each have a responsibility to be careful of the words we inflict in a moment of anger. We should choose our written words even more cautiously, for what’s in print is more permanent.
Our twitter-addicted president doesn’t even seem to have the benefit of an extensive vocabulary. Rhetoric is not his forte. Unfortunately for his ego, no matter how far he demolishes his predecessor’s legacy, Obama’s masterful command of language is on indelible display in his published books and speeches.
As writers, it can be useful to read aloud what we’re working on, for we become aware of repetitive or boring words. Speaking for myself, I’ve become aware of words I use too often; for instance, ”stare.” In my stories, it seems someone is always staring at someone or something. What about glance, glare, peer, or even giving someone a piercing look ? Just think of the variety that could spice up the page. Even that famed childhood chant has different variations. Historical references to “never harm me,” also include hurt me, break me, and down me.
If you’re looking for ways to avoid the banal, it’s worthwhile to wander through “Thesaurus of Alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases ,” edited by Robert Hartwell Fiske. It’s a collection of what Fiske calls ”dimwitticisms,” trite expressions where less worn words would be more arresting. For instance, ”You get under my skin”(a common Trump ailment apparently), Fiske suggests that our irritation could be alternatively expressed as nettle, rankle ,chafe, etc.
What life we might give our words when we spice our conversation or our writing – even personal E-mails – with the unexpected. It’s like adding unique seasonings to a recipe, or showing up in a color you’ve never worn before. This makes observers take notice. Isn’t that what we all want? And how much more enhancing to use the power of imagination rather than resorting to bluster.
BOOKS:”WIDOW’S WALK” – available through iUniverse.com; “TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW” – Xlibris.com; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and “ROLE PLAY”- CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle.