Disclaimer: I probably think that every word ever spoken into existence deserves more respect than it gets. Words are one of the most powerful tools we can access, and we toss them around like they’re nothing. Everything around us only exists because of words; God created this world by speaking. If we are made in His image, how can we imagine that our speech does not also create or destroy? According to a leading neurosurgeon, the speech center in the brain exercises dominion over the whole central nervous system. According to the Bible, life and death are in the power of the tongue. Words matter, and I’m not the only one who says so. And it’s not that I think these are the only words that don’t have the respect they deserve, it’s more that these are the ones that bug me the most.
LITERALLY: This one is a personal irritant. Yes, I get that language is always evolving and that’s not a bad thing. But by using ‘literally’ in an effort to make our statements stronger, we’ve only canceled out the meaning of the word altogether. Literally. And that, in my opinion, is just a lazy, wasteful use of a word. And speaking of lazy, wasteful use of words…
AMAZING/DREADFUL/WONDERFUL/TERRIBLE/probably every other superlative out there: Look, I’m a conservationist by nature and I love words, so seeing these tossed around with little regard for their actual meaning hurts me. And since we use these words to describe things that are in reality only pleasant or unpleasant, we have robbed the words of their true meaning and left ourselves with no way to describe things when they really do fill us with wonder or dread. And I realize that we never have had and never will have words adequate to describe God, but we are humans and we will try; however, if you tell me how amazing you think your God is only five minutes after you’ve told me about your literally amazing taco, I might be slightly underwhelmed by the amazingness of that God. Sure, language evolves and nowadays more than a fire can be lit, but I think we’re still consuming more word definitions than we’re creating.
ALWAYS/NEVER: Never say these words because extreme generalizations are always false. The only being who can bear the weight of an always or a never is God. No human being is capable of always or never doing anything. And I personally believe that every time someone says “I will never do XYZ,” they have just created a future in which they will do that very thing. Also, despite the fact that these things are seldom true, your body believes the words you say. He always does this, and they never invite me, and she’ll never change. Fine then. Kill your life.
THE: This one is just for the fun. The. Funny little word. We use it constantly, everyone understands it, but I bet 90% of us couldn’t explain what it means so that a 5-year-old could understand it. But I think it says something about us, that one of our daily tools is something we don’t fully understand simply because we never stop to think about it long enough to realize that we don’t understand it. If you don’t know there’s a question, why would you look for an answer?
LOVE: Behold, the word that sparked the blog post. This one bothers me the most because we use it all the time and mostly it means…nothing.
A strongly affectionate feeling. Approving of everything someone does, without question. Sex. The attentions I like to receive. Kindness. Anything that I have pleasant feelings towards. Hearts. That warm and fuzzy feeling I get when I look at someone I’m fond of. Anything and everything, therefore, nothing.
I’ve heard people have entire discussions about love and what it does and how to reconcile God’s love with His righteous judgment (as though they’re somehow opposite); I’ve heard so many speakers and pastors earnestly proclaim that love is the most powerful and important thing; but in none of these situations did they ever stop to define what they mean by ‘love’. Because everyone knows what love is, right? From the shambolic state of most relationships, I kinda think not.
“What is love?” is a popular question, though maybe less so than it once was. But despite all the people who have taken stabs at answering it, no one seems to have found a satisfactory definition – at least, we’re still asking. We’re still searching.
And then there’s that casual bit in the Bible that goes ‘God is love’. What does that mean?
I’ve got my own ideas about what love is, but it’s not a very popular one because it has almost nothing to do with your warm and fuzzy feelings. Valentine’s Day is not involved.
But it breaks me, how we use and abuse this word so much. No matter how much we struggle to understand it, we know that love is meant to be something greater and more powerful. And yet, our language reduces it to nothing. We use it talk about chocolate and our mothers and dogs and summer weather and the color yellow and our spouses and a song and God and our children, as though these things are all equal. In modern romance, telling someone you love them is a bigger step than sleeping with them. Child of a religion that taught more about reserving your body than your heart, I originally found this very odd, but I’m beginning to reconsider a little. Yes, people give their bodies too easily, but at least they’re showing some kind of respect for the word and what it might mean.
This is what makes me sad: through our carelessness, we no longer have a word that comes anywhere close to expressing what love was meant to.
Is there any word you think deserves more respect than it gets?