Recently, I was a little surprised to learn that my 19-year-old daughter uses the F-bomb. A lot. It was one of those late night parenting situations where a taxi in Calgary seemed extremely elusive (45-60 minutes wait?) and my daughter and her friends had been out at a concert and were in dire need of a ride home. So, I obliged and made the late night/early morning trip to pick them up. She didn’t swear in front of me, but one of her friends let it slip during the drive home that my “baby” has a bad habit of using some questionable language (this is why I don’t mind doing these things–it’s amazing what I learn on these DD misadventures!).
Hell hath no fury like a mother…
It didn’t matter that it was 2 a.m., I immediately reminded my daughter that using the F-bomb makes you look stupid. I was outraged not so much at the vulgarity of the word, as I was disappointed in her for being so utterly unoriginal! The fact that she had a bit too much to drink seemed to pale in comparison to this linguistic laziness. I was infuriated that she was unable to muster up enough creativity to use one of the multitude of words available in the English language. “Do I need to buy you a thesaurus?” I asked her as she rolled her eyes and the rest of the carload of girls giggled.
Words CAN hurt you
There is really no reason to tolerate repetitive or lazy use of language and in fact, when you do so, your credibility suffers terribly. Which brings me to the point of this blog post.
Now, I’m no linguist, but this is what I’ve observed at a few too many well-intentioned events lately. There are a lot of cliched, hackneyed expressions and generally speaking, words that ring hollow because they have been overused. Some of this can be chalked up to people just being unaware. If you aren’t attending a lot of protessts, you might legitimately think that some of the phrases are clever and original. You are excused due to your rookie status.
Unleash your thesaurus
For the more experienced organizers of rallies, demonstrations and other types of protests, this is a plea to do your prep work before taking to the streets, sidewalks and plazas on behalf of your cause.
Let’s start with the one word I hope to never hear again: Shame.
With all due respect to the English, the German and the Norse originators of this honourable word–it needs to be banned from this point forward from use at any gathering of disaffected citizens. Why? Because it has been used ad nauseum in so many protests now that it needs to be “set free.”
The wince factor
Maybe it’ll be okay to use again some day. Maybe it never was okay to use it, but let it go. It has been chanted one too many times and using it now, under any circumstances (that includes the hashtag #shame) must stop now. Activists using the word immediately discredit themselves. I’m not saying this is fair. It is a perfectly good word…but it has been repeated so much that it has lost its meaning. It’s not the first, nor will it be the last word to suffer this indignation. Do your cause a favour and refrain from using it.
It comes across as though you are mindlessly repeating ideas without due thought and consideration. There are so many other ways to express yourself, so many words out there that can be used to articulate your discord, why would you want to simply parrot a word that has been rendered ineffective?
Avail yourself of persuasive tools
Recognize that the best rallies, speeches and demonstrations require originality, thoughtful language and superb speeches. The best way to ensure you’ll be dismissed (certainly by the media, who are forced to attend every one of these things and are not impressed by the repetitive nature of messaging) by the unconvinced is to fall back on phrases that are familiar and oft repeated.
Take the time to consider your language, come up with unique slogans that convey your message in a new and invigorating way.
The real “shame” is when the languid use of certain words distracts from a critical need for change.