Posts Tagged language
After my previous post, in which I described my process of looking for a romantic partner, one of my friends asked me why I used the word “girls” instead of “women.” I am a self-avowed feminist and my friend, I think, could not understand why I would use such sexist language. In the feminist community it has been taken for granted, indeed it is a kind of commandment, that one should not refer to a grown woman as a girl.
Do you listen to the things you say? I listen to what people say and their words do not always reflect their beliefs. Atheists call upon God and Christians who otherwise profess things to be the will of God blame things on luck or coincidence when it is convenient.
Admittedly, it’s often hardly their fault. Our language has evolved this way. It’s hard to make utterances completely congruent with your beliefs – in fact people might think you’re a little strange. If your friend is about to write a big exam, do you say
a) Good luck,
b) May the will of God let you succeed, or
c) Your hard work will pay off
Everyone says a) at least some of the time, even if their beliefs are more consistent with b) or c). “Good luck” is just something one says. In some sense it’s lost its meaning. No one thinks they can control whimsical chance. If you’re a Christian, perhaps the best thing to say is “God speed”, which literally means “let God prosper you”, but this now has connotations of impending doom (thanks, probably, to movies and the US military) and so your friend may lose heart entirely.
When you narrowly avoid disaster, do you say
a) Thank God,
b) Thank goodness,
c) I was lucky, or
d) It was God’s will
At different points you may find yourself saying more one of the above. Even Atheists like to say
“Thank God” and they don’t seem to see the irony. I think you should only thank God if you really mean to thank God. But then, should we avoid thanking goodness? I think the world is random (designed that way) and so I see no problem in blaming things on luck – as long as by luck you mean probability or chance.
When something upsets you, do you say
b) Jesus Christ
c) Mary mother of God
I say “flip”. It’s less coarse than any of the above, but its purpose is pretty much the same: A thoughtless word expressed in anger. Why do we want to be profane when things go wrong? Perhaps we want blame the God whose name we invoke, even if we foreswear His existence. Perhaps we want to punish the universe for our predicament (as if it cares). Perhaps we don’t think at all.
There is a particular usage of words that some Christians like and which I avoid. They may say things such as
a) I felt God say to me…
b) The spirit moved me…
c) I had a calling…
d) I just felt something…
d) is probably the most honest. There is probably nothing wrong with a) to c), but unless you make it clear that you’re just interpreting your circumstances, your thoughts, your dreams, or your feelings, you can mislead people.
When someone sneezes, do you say “bless you?”
Are lovers fated to be together?
When you meet someone in an unexpected place, is it a coincidence?
Is getting that promotion an answer to your prayers or did you deserve it?
Is it a miracle or an as yet unexplained mystery?
Our language betrays us. In some sense, as Christians, God is alive in our language, in how we interpret the world. A cynic might say God only exists in our language. When I say something is a miracle, I acknowledge God’s power over reality. But does that mean I should pepper my language with references to God? If God wills I will go to such and such a place and make money…
I think we should practice make our language consistent with what we really mean in every circumstance. Atheists should not thank God. If I think something is a coincidence or just pure luck I shall call it that. Leave it to someone else to say it is the will of God, if that is what they mean.