Word power


“It really gets to me,” said my son, checking his phone as I was putting his socks on.

“What does?”

“Words… stuff like this…” He read me a passage from social media. I immediately saw what he meant. It was story about a little girl with a beautiful voice. It was a touching enough tale, without the need of the writer to add pathos. ‘Despite her disabilities’ we were told, she sings like an angel.

I could see my son’s point, but he expounded anyway. Why should having a disability mean that she shouldn’t have a lovely voice? Doubtless the writer was only trying to add an extra dimension to her talent. Without any doubt at all there had been no thought of marginalising any further a young lady already labelled as disabled…a word that means broken, unfit for use, rendered powerless… It was simply a figure of speech with no harm intended or implied. Yet the implication is clear, somewhere in the writer’s mind, there was surprise that a disabled child could sing so well.

What struck me once again was how many preconceptions and prejudices are built into our language. They may not even be our own, just ‘figures of speech’ for which we have few, or no, alternatives; phrases we have learned growing up and have simply accepted as being the norm because that is what everyone around us says, without ever thinking of the underlying implications.

One of the problems lies in how easy it is to hurt or offend a listener. You may know what you mean… they can only know what they see and hear. While we are not responsible for another’s reaction to our words, we are solely responsible for what we say and how.

Disability is something my son and I have become quite sensitive to over the past few years. We don’t jump on every imagined slight or slur, for the simple reason that we too have used those exact same figures of speech ourselves, often still do, without ever realising what effect they have on either our listeners or our outlook. It isn’t just disability though; in any area where there is room for prejudice… race, colour, religion, ideology, sexual orientation, age or gender… we have words and phrases that invisibly separate ‘them’ from ‘us’. Most of the time, their use is unconscious and completely innocent of offense… no more than a habitual pattern of words.

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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21 Responses to Word power

  1. mihrank says:

    Sue – I am deeply touched by your post, which such important wake call.


  2. Susan Scott says:

    Thanks Sue – beautiful clarion call to be more conscious/aware of words we use.


  3. Talking to people has become like tip-toeing through a minefield. We all need to be sensitive, but by that I mean ALL of us. We have to not take offense when it’s obvious that none was intended. Hopefully we can educate people about how words that you may consider neutral don’t really come across that way. It’s like the day someone in my town told me how glad she was to meet me because she’d never known anyone of “the Hebrew persuasion” before. Or when a friend of ours told me secretly it never occurred to her that “people like Garry can get a sun tan.”

    Sometimes, you just sigh, smile, and move on. Sometimes, you try to explain why that wasn’t necessarily the most diplomatic thing to say. I guess we all have to figure out when an attempt at education is worth the effort. Y’think?


    • Sue Vincent says:

      We all get it wrong sometimes, though a moment’s thought can avoid a lot of insensitivity, but I do think that cultivating a basic attitude of mutual respect insatead of distrust or dismay would help.


  4. You Son is Right. The Writer cannot be in two minds, one of disbelief and one of appreciation.


  5. This reminds me of the initial reaction to Susan Boyle, the implication being that someone like her couldn’t possibly have a beautiful singing voice.


  6. Widdershins says:

    Ah yes, the disabled person as a source of ‘inspiration’.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Noah Weiss says:

    This is powerful, and it is a powerful reminder of the danger of words and “micro-aggressions.”


  8. Pingback: Shared | Life with a Nameless Identity

  9. Pingback: SPEAKing Up Reblog:Say What You Mean | Project Speak

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