I recently finished a book, Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen. It is a good book, by the way, but she wrote a line (among many) that caught my attention: “To a writer, words are currency.” English has lost its effectiveness in the specificity of what a particular word conveys. In my quest to learn French, I have noticed how specific a person must be when speaking. To say the least, the English speaking world has gone slack in this approach. I have targeted three words that have significantly lost their meaning:
- Starving. For many who use this word frequently, they are not. In a horrible irony, the people who often use this word could stand to actually miss a meal or two and be perfectly fine. Oh, a person might be very hungry, but he has not reached the critical point of starving. For me, this is an insult to the millions in our world who are actually starving, and it lessens the urgency of the word.
- Suffering. As a cyclist, I hear this word often. In the past, I admit that I am guilty of using it too. Riding in hard race or struggling up a steep grade does not constitute suffering. When used out of context, does it not take away from the meaning of the word? The suffering of Christ, re-told in the Bible, is a crystal-clear definition of the word. To take away from the word by describing a hard bicycle ride is to be dismissive of the true definition.
- War/Battle. These words are used interchangeably in many instances, especially in sporting events. Playing hard, twisting an ankle, or getting a concussion does not even hold a candle to the definitions of war or battle. Being a veteran, I have lost a close friend in Afghanistan and seen the effects of combat. A football stadium is not a place of battle, and a championship game will never be a war. Again, using the word(s) out of context cheapens the meaning of true sacrifice.
Now, I do understand the use of colloquial expressions and idiom phrasing. I respect the use of informal and formal expressions. I would just like to see certain words that depict something much deeper to be used in their truest since of the meaning. Many would say that I am being silly. Communication is important and should be used effectively. We should speak and write clearly and take pride in the words we choose to use.