Choosing your words in the internet age

language, culture

I wrote a line or two on the subject of choosing your words with care, and avoiding some because they may be considered harmful. Since it was well received, and it made my own thoughts clearer too, I’m posting a spelling improved version here ;)

I think the focus on ‘correct’ use of words come from our age of soundbitism, 140 character limits: we more and more think of words in isolation, rather than in context. On top of that text becomes easier and easier to fire off, and these broadcast bits of text are then treated as if set in stone. As if language is not an interaction but a one-way street, where all responsibility for writing correctly for everyone for all time is emphasized. This treatment of text seems mostly an online phenomena: rarely in real life communication with friends, family, or strangers, are you not able to correct your language if it was clearly ill-received or you missed a nuance important to the recipient.

I am not happy we are treating text more and more as a record and less and less as a method of communication. Me and my partner are of different nationalities, and we (and I suspect many close partners from different backgrounds) have developed a kind of language just for us, where we’ve addressed and keep addressing misunderstandings, different connotations and meanings of the same or similar words, and so on. What we’ve developed makes sense to us, but may not to others, and could be even offensive (I hope not though! If we discover that, we’d change it to not be). Hedging your texts against all possible offences before you encounter them, that’s a bit of a fuzzy line: the fact that we mostly use a particular language (say English) already precludes a large portion of people from understanding us. Is that a problem? Not until others will be involved in our communcation.

In protestantism, calvinism, the letter of the word became more important than the spirit of it, and it is my theory that through American cultural projection this shift in perception of language is spreading to all discourse, in all countries.

If you write or say a text a text on depression using the words dark and light, the language could convey accurately what you feel, because you and only you can chose the words that best fit your feelings. In case you’re speaking with people who experience those words in another way, for whom ‘dark’ is usually used in a racist context for instance, you are free and encouraged to change your language to fit the particular group of people you’re conversing with. This is after all how language develops: we change it to suit our ability to communicate, to suit new esthetics and new awareness on how people understand the same words differently.

It all depends ;) As it must be with language.