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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Bland words are not the answer

(NB blandification is a word made up by me)

Our hyper-sensitivity and 21st Century desire for ‘political correctness’ has put us at great risk of an epidemic of ‘blandification’. That is linguistic blandification! My definition: noun – to have spoken in a manner that is bland, insipid, plain, flavourless, wishy-washy, lacklustre and characterless and is undemonstrative as it fears offending.

Having got that off my chest let me say this: I am committed to avoiding salacious, hateful, violent language that is designed and used to inflict hurt. I know words can be a weapon and that at times one’s language leaves wounds long after the speaker has forgotten what they have said.

But it seems that some folks have forgotten the difference between acerbic usage and mere conversation. Some have appointed themselves to the high office of Commissioner of the Word Police and use the most imperious and pompous manner to ‘correct’ the language sinners. We are not being asked to watch our words but to suffocate them.

I’m afraid that experience shows that insisting on particular un-nuanced usage does not eradicate prejudice, racism, sexism, sizeism, ageism, anti-Semitism or any other ‘ism’. It doesn’t stop crimes against women, children, refugees or the displaced. It doesn’t stop the tide of self-harm and youth suicide. An awareness of language provides a platform for change it is not the change. Only kindness, respect, intention and toil are the weapons against ‘isms’ and our brokenness. The conversation is the critical thing.

Let’s not believe for one minute that social change is merely a matter of semantics. Language is one tool we use to break down the ugly divisions that exist but in and of its self it is not the power player. I’ve known people who talk the talk but even their ‘right words’ didn’t mask their lack of respect for the marginalised and disenfranchised of whom they spoke. I’ve seen the opposite too when all the wrong words are used but the transmitted message of love, support, connection could not be made clearer.

I love words. Might be a bit of a wordsmith. I’ve been hurt and boosted by the use of the worst and best of words. Words matter, but actions always speak louder. You can insist we communicate with beige, cautious and state-approved words but the problems will not be solved until we act. A bland linguistic world is no safer or happier; it’s just quieter. Speak with respect, act with greater respect.

I apologise if my occasional word is not on the newly approved list; but listen to what I mean, watch what I do, hear the intention and then if I’m failing, provide your critical appraisal. If the judges with their clipboards are standing on the moral high ground…they’d best be sure that their words are mirrored in their actions. Because I’ll be using a ‘non-blandified’ appraisal of my own if they are not.

Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying.   Ralph Waldo Emerson

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