Think Before You Speak…

By November 3, 2012Writing about Writing

… My mother always said. Did I ever listen to her? No, not really. I just filed those words away with all of the other advice she gave me that I convinced myself would never be useful. Should I have listened to her? Yes, and not just because I would have probably gotten in a lot less trouble growing up if I had. In the wonderful world of academia we call this particular piece of mom advice “word choice,” specifying it as either good or bad. Choosing the right word in a paper, or in a speech, effects tone, meaning and reaction, and is important to keep in mind so you don’t start to sound unintentionally ignorant or offensive.

After the recent scandal with Ann Coulter tweeting after the October 22 presidential debates calling President Obama a “retard,” and her defense of using that term,  it becomes extremely apparent that we need to be reminded that it is important to remember that the words we use can have a profound effect not only on the things we say, but the things we write. Word choice is, largely, about choosing a word that sounds right, or makes sense, in a sentence. However, the other part is choosing a word that states what you mean, without offending someone, or, at the very least, a group of people who are not your directly intended audience.

To use Coulter’s example, she used “retard” with the intention of offending President Obama, but in doing so she also offended a segment of the population for whom that word is used as a derogatory description. No matter how much Coulter denies that fact, it still holds true that she offended a larger group of people than just Obama and his supporters. The lesson to be learned from this is that we need to be careful with the things we say, and consider all the implications of the words we write. Diction, word choice, is not just a concern with tone and sophistication anymore. It is much much more than that. As we head not only into this election in the upcoming week, but as we continue to write for whatever reason, be that work, fun, or class, we must always keep words and their consequences in mind, because the words we choose to use are important since they are a large part of what defines who we are