2 Sep

Words are everything. They are our most important tool in communicating with others and how we learn language and learn how to use language will have much to do with our success and our failures in life. The beauty of words is that they can have so many varied and different meanings depending on where and how we use them. However, what makes words beautiful in one person’s mind can also make them ugly and frustrating in another. How are we supposed to know what a person means unless they are exact and precise in what they have to say? One man’s definition could lead to another man’s doubt. Take for example the Declaration of Independence; a document that although forthright in its declarations can reveal upon closer scrutiny that when words are chosen carefully enough, meanings that seem straight forward and clear can still be open to further and even contradictory interpretations.

“All men are created equal.” That seems simple enough doesn’t it?

All: Everyone. Men: Male. Created: Made. Equal: Same.

So what they were so eloquently saying was, every male is made the same.

They could just as well have written “All people are equal.” Not very poetic but definitely more precise and certainly leaving nothing to argue about, but they didn’t did they?

By using the word men they were excluding half of America’s population, namely the women! By using the action verb created instead of a verb of being like is or are they were implying that after someone does the creating, we can still make you a slave, or ignore you altogether, like the Native Americans and African Americans, thereby leaving out another 20+ percent of the continents population. In all honesty, once you’ve added “men are created” to the sentence then words like all and equal are useless modifiers.

It took me a long while before it occurred to me that two of my favorite founding fathers from history, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned people. No matter what their thoughts were about freedom and the rights of people, they never let it get in the way of business. They truly were the first trickle down theorists weren’t they? If American slaves would only join the revolution and fight along side the colony’s white revolutionaries there would be freedom for all upon victory. First freedom from the tyranny of the British king would come to white Americans who would then eventually see to it that freedom from the tyranny of white American slaveholders would eventually trickle down to the lesser American’s… like slaves. And it only took 4 score and 7 years (and a civil war) for the trickle to make it all the way down.

So we need to stress in our public schools and to our public school students that not only is learning to read and write important but also that the study of words and their various meanings and usages are equally important if not more so. Students must be admonished to always remember to use them carefully and remember that others may be using them carefully too. And above all, like our founding fathers, have some fun with them because not only is language important, language is everything. Now go read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (I’ll bet you never have really read them before) and see if you can figure out what our founding fathers were trying to tell us.

And while you are at it how about starting a little notebook for yourself right now? Jot down all of the words in this blog that you do not understand or maybe have never heard before and then look them up in a dictionary and write down their definitions. Darn! Now you have to go get a pencil…and then try not to lose it! See the great difficulties that our young students face in school? But if you do it you WILL learn something and gain some Knowledge in the doing…and Knowledge IS power, especially word knowledge. The more vocabulary you learn, the more you will understand what people are saying. Increasing your vocabulary is almost like learning a foreign language. In fact for many of my students over the years studying a foreign language in school was easier for them than studying English! Go figure!

2 Responses to “Words”

  1. David Weintraub September 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    One can fly a 747 through the difference between connation and denotation. How often do you hear people say, “you know what I meant” when using unclear language? In casual circles, “I know what you meant” suffices as an answer, but when looking at research in the social sciences, such as education, I want to know exactly what terms like “achievement gap” and “inequality” and (sorry) “knowledge is power” really mean? Let’s look at “knowledge is power”. Knowledge of what? Knowledge that perception is greater than reality? Knowledge that most people won’t search for truth and I with money or just bluster, I can show you “the truth”?


  2. elroyjones September 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    I am struggling, and suffering, trying to explain to the younger people who work with me that the wrong choice of words can have dire legal implications in contractual agreements. You cannot imagine my pain.

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