This post is written in conjunction with the Spin Cycle over at Sprite’s Keeper, the topic of which this week is language. Click here to see more of the most linguistic posts on the internet this week.
Long before I declared myself an English major (or even knew what it meant to do such a thing), I was starkly aware of the power of words.
As a child I liked to read and read often. I was never the cute little Hermione or Anne of Green Gables bookworm who knew from a young age she wanted to be a writer (though my sister definitely was), but reading still was fun for me.
My main interest in reading was not so much the stories as the words. I cherished words, rolling new ones over and over in my brain until they shone, polished. Even to this day I can remember exactly where I was—what book I was reading or what class I was in—when I learned certain words for the first time.
I guess in that way I was a collector. Words were wonderful, handy things, all lined up in my brain like wrenches in a toolbox just waiting to be called up, arranged, and put to good use. With words I could communicate, could make myself heard. Words could express tangible needs—like please pass the pickles—or more abstract philosophies—like I wonder if it’s the clouds that are moving or the earth.
Yes, I was profound in my youth.
But for all their vast practical applications, words can also kill people if used violently. Words are a lot like wrenches that way.
I could tell my mom and dad that I hated them. I could tell my sister to get out of my life. I could tell lies about friends on the playground. I could say really mean things to people I loved simply because I was small and self-consumed. I could, and I did.
Sometimes I did.
I’ll never forget the first time I said the F word:
I didn’t mean to—I mean, not really. I had a cousin named Buck and he was over playing with my sister and me and I distinctly remember jumping on my bed (I was one part girl and two parts heathen) chanting, “Bucky, Bucky, fee fi fo f*cky—” you know the game. I knew it was a bad word but I didn’t really know how bad. Plus it sounded so sharp and exact coming out of my mouth, and I cannot deny that I enjoyed the feel of it slipping through my teeth. I figured if I got in trouble I could just claim my innocence by arguing that “it’s just how the game goes.”
I did get in trouble, of course, but my fall back excuse didn’t save me from a time-out and a lecture:
“Do you know what that word means?” asked my mom.
“It’s a very bad word. It’s what people use to describe [I will save you the awkwardness here and now, but I can guarantee you it was not fun for a seven year old to hear].”
“Camille, you must be careful with the words you choose.”
I must be careful with the words I choose—I am nearly twenty-five and still trying to get the hang of that life lesson.
I think, though, that once I’ve mastered that, I’ll be a really excellent human being. It may not be until I’m eighty, but I’m determined to see it through.
Words have a way of inspiring a person that way.
Don’t you think?