Disappearing Words

I was pondering today about the disappearance of some words from common use in our culture. Words like splendor and majestic. Integrity and honor. Virtue. On the negative side we have lost words used to describe disapproved societal values: vile, fornication, sin.

When was the last time you heard or used them?

Words are powerful, more powerful than we realize at first look. The words we use shape the very way we think, the way we relate to one another. They can be curse or blessing. In our personal dialog the wrongful use of words is the chief reason for breakdown in relationships. Careless use of words has often caused lasting pain. Nothing is more inaccurate than the childhood singsong: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

New ideas begin as thoughts. Thinking uses words as building blocks; it is hard to imagine thinking anything without words, which represent concepts, being a part of the process. Our vocabulary is the stockpile of building materials available to us. Therefore, if it is common or vile, our thoughts will rise no higher than the bricks we have to use. For many, their list of adjectives has few words that exceed four letters.

There are, of course, morally neutral words, e.g. the cat is under the bench, but my concern is the diminishing of grandeur, culture, dignity, grace and virtue which is concurrent with the loss of those words is the public dialog.

As the common vocabulary, both spoken and written, has changed, so has our behavior. That which was once considered shameful or unspeakable is now accepted. Boundaries have been breached, jettisoned. There seem to be no restraints. In fact, the concept of restraint has changed from personal self-discipline to physical things like handcuffs and white jackets.

To change public behavior, then, would require a change in the way we talk and write. Society will rise or fall to the level of our language. Let’s talk (and think) it up.

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