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The power of words

Fri, Apr 27th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

Could there be some good to come from the Don Imus foot-in-the-mouth scandal?

In the aftermath of Mr. Imus's unfortunate utterances some are now questioning the public use of terms most would find offensive. These offensive words and phrases are readily found in song lyrics, on broadcast as well as cable television, satellite TV and radio, in the movies, and in many well respected print media. There is the N-word, the F-word, the S-word, the MF-word(s), etc. There are song lyrics that advocate the use of drugs, the killing of police, the sexual demeaning of women.

To date, some have suggested that if you don't like what you hear, turn off the radio or TV, don't buy the magazine, don't buy the CD or DVD, don't go to see a particular movie. Most would agree that if you find something offensive, then don't go where those things can be found. And, most would also agree that one shouldn't keep someone else from going there if they so choose.

The good that may come is an open discussion of what these and other explosive terms mean. One does not have to define the terms or offensive phrases in their literal sense. But, shouldn't there be an examination of the effect these terms and phrases have on us all. Shouldn't we be more cognizant of how these terms will be heard by others, even if our intent was not to demean or to harm. Banning the use of certain terms or phrases from the airwaves, movies, CD's etc is not the answer. The last thing we need is the "word and phrase police".

What we do need is to understand what is meant when these terms are used, in the context of their use at the time they are used.

What we do need is a tolerance, an understanding, and yes, even an appreciation of the "offensive" nature some terms and phrases can carry with them.

Some of these words and phrases have a power unto themselves, a power that they alone can bring to a certain situation. That is the glory of language. The right word at the right time. What we also need is an understanding that used in an inappropriate way the power the words and phrases carry can and will hurt.

Such a discussion can begin with each of us reassessing our own use of language.

Alan Lipowitz lives in Peterson.

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