The Reclamation of Words

Author: Jon Lawrence

The Reclamation of Words

I have been using words for a very long time, I owe so much to them. They helped me proclaim my devotion to my wife nine years ago this very day, they enabled me to eloquently articulate my feelings in poetry and songs, and they were really useful when writing my somewhat tart, yet amusing and satisfying letter of resignation after eleven intolerable years at a certain teaching establishment. I therefore feel compelled to stand up for the verbs, pro-nouns, nouns, adjectives and onomatopoeias, invectives and more, that have served me so well.

For all the good they do for us we, the word-users, mistreat words through ignorance, indifference and misinterpretation. They have had their semantics manipulated and coerced to the point where their power of communication has waned, and so I write now in an attempt to right certain wrongs. I begin with ‘love’.

The word love originally had a profound meaning, an expression of the utmost devotion and passion felt for a partner or deity. The Bible tell us to “love thy neighbour”, a metaphor for universal peace which has survived hundreds of wars, thousands of injustices and pulled us through millions of instances of mans inhumanity to man. And yet it has been hijacked by advertising executives, well-meaning but somewhat lost little men in drab suits, to convince us that we will love the new line of solar powered nightlights. How can they expect me to feel the same way about a carpet cleaner as I do about my children?  Should I declare my undying devotion to the latest digital shoehorn?

Love is a word that I found so hard to use for so many years, a word that my father found so hard to say to me, as his father had for him. When I did hear the word I felt my heart palpitate, I fought to catch my breath and I felt inside a magic which touched my core. Today so many of us misuse this little word through the ease and eagerness with which we say it. We’ve all done it, “I love spinach ricotta,” or perhaps “I love the way you’ve done your hair.” So I make a pledge to use this tiny, but magical, word more appropriately in the future.

I also have concerns about the word ‘gay’. The word itself has a happy simplicity in keeping with its meaning. I have watched many black and white movies where happy, genial characters proclaimed that they were “feeling gay.” It was so innocent. In recent decades however, it has been stolen by those for whom the word homosexual is not good enough (this is understandable but there are some lovely alternatives out there if one cares to think a little, for example, ‘puff’ is suitably camp sounding – it sounds like the noise that one might make when removing a handkerchief from the back pocket of some knee-length dungarees). Sadly today if I were to say that “I was feeling a little gay” I run the risk of being arrested, soon after to appear in court before a judge accused of molesting a midget. Enough! It’s time we used the word in its traditional sense. Try it you’ll feel all the gayer for it.

Another misused word is the overused ‘awesome’ Anyone who has flown over the Atlas mountains, or stood at Niagara Falls, or seen a truly magnificent thunderstorm will really understand the true purpose of the word. It recognises something which goes beyond human comprehension, something of such magnitude of scale, beauty or majesty. However, one night in the mid-to-late eighties, a Californian drop-out called Brad “The Dude” Zimmerman crept into the dictionary and ruthlessly and forcefully kidnapped the word ‘awesome’ so that he might be able to adequately describe an over-distorted heavy metal guitar solo. Now Brad has an awesome surfboard, an awesome tattoo and an awesome fifty-seven Chevy, none of which strictly qualify the use of the word ‘awesome’. I also have suspicions that Mr Zimmerman was also responsible for the abduction of the word ‘like!’ Since the early nineties the word has been a substitute for the word ‘said’ (a perfectly innocent little word, and certainly not deserving of such ill-treatment) as used by teenagers of low-academic persuasion (like I was). You may have heard this in impolite adolescent society.  For example:

“I was like ‘Oh my God’, and he was like ‘f**k me’, and I was like, ‘maybe later’, and he was like ‘maybe now?’ And I was like ‘maybe not’.”

This translates as; “I said, ‘Oh my God’, and he said, ‘f**k me,’ and I said, maybe later, and he said maybe now? And I said, ‘maybe not.'”

‘News’ has been replaced by ‘gossip,’ while ‘art’ is used to describe a back-heel by an overpaid footballer with hairy knuckles and barely an opposable thumb – I wonder what Dali or Picasso might have thought of such a use of the term.

I am not opposed to the development of the English language, far from it. Indeed there are some words which, in truth, should be sacked, particularly in the world of sex and bodily functions. For example ‘flatulence’ is an awful word. It’s simply not as funny as fart, guff, chuff, trump or bum-burp. And then of course there is the word ‘masturbation’, a truly miserable word which fails to deliver the swift movement of ‘wank’.

I save my final request for the word ‘beautiful’. For me, and no doubt millions of others, this word can only be used in relation to such outstanding exquisiteness and splendour that other adjectives simply pale in significance. Yet it is now applied to stick-thin models who have non-biodegradable breasts, collagen eye-lids and, in later years, skin pulled so tightly from the cheek bones that the excess wrinkles have to be clipped with a clothes-peg at the back of the head and then covered by a wig that looks as though something has crawled up her back and died. She does this because she thinks it will make her ‘beautiful’. In reality she looks like an expressionless alien who is stuck in a coca-cola bottle. You see, we think that beauty is only physical when this is simply not true. For example I have the body of a titan and the rugged good looks of an all-action film hero, when in truth I am actually a twat (a great word). However, the most beautiful person I have ever seen, beyond my family, was a middle-aged greying nurse who held my mother’s hand tightly and with such unconditional love, sympathy and kindness after my mother’s massive stroke. This was not the false workmanship of a professional carer who had simply learned the handbook of dealing with frightened patients, or practiced sympathetic lines and catchphrases as though she were little more than a bit-part player in a bad soap opera. Her words and actions could not be compared to the ‘have a nice day…. now go f**k yourself’ culture which pervades much of our society. This was a masterly exhibition in what it is to really be human, to really feel another’s pain. The kindness was so much more attractive than Jordan’s breasts, or Ann Robinson’s face in a test-tube look – this was really beautiful.

So go forth all ye stolen words and reclaim your rightful place in the wonder that is the English language.

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About the Author

Jon Lawrence is an author, poet, playwright, songwriter, lecturer and musician from South Wales.

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