Friday, January 30, 2015

Another Way to Say it

When Racism Slips into Everyday Speech, an excellent 2014 article in The Root, really challenged my ways of thinking, speaking, and writing.

Of course, it also challenged my opinion of myself as a non-racist, and as an "educated" user of language. (Here's another great thing about the internet - I can't hear you laughing.) Anyway, since reading the article, I've tried to rephrase some of those offensive sayings by using less idiomatic language. It required more brainpower than I expected, but I was OK with that - communication is a worthwhile endeavor and thinking has yet to be proven bad for your health.

Dog wearing glasses
Old Dog, still learning. 
I hate to admit that many of the phrases the article cited were ones I used often, although I didn't know their origins. Yeah - me, lover of word origins. Yes, I'm embarrassed. Properly educated/chagrined, I'm changing my ways.

Rather than refer to people I don't know as "the peanut gallery," "hoi polloi," or "unwashed masses," I'm opting for the quite useful phrase "anyone else" or "everyone else." Or instead of "Grandfather clause," I see the better turn of phrase is "longstanding exception" or "accepted exception."

Good Communication Not Always "Creative"

As I said, I used these phrases and others on The Root's list pretty frequently in the past. I considered them lively, interesting descriptions - and I assumed I understood their meanings without taking the next step to find out how they'd developed. Definitely my bad.

Also bad on my part: I mistakenly thought using these "creative phrases" was a means of demonstrating my love of language. But I know better. The #1 job of words is to communicate, so it's critical to choose your words to communicate what you intend - not a meaning that could offend.
So, the bottom line is - even an old dog can learn a new trick or two. (Lord help me, I didn't research the origin of that phrase...)

As I've told many a business owner about corporate communications, your words should work for you, not against you.

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