(I don’t mean to go all Extreme on you with the title there.)
When I was in elementary school growing up, as all young boys had a tendency to do from time to time, I would fight with my mom and then threaten to run away. Her response was always the same: “Go ahead. I’ll help you pack.”
And one time…I did. I packed my Snoopy suitcase and stormed out the door. That’ll show her, I thought.
I made it all the way to the end of the driveway. It was dark out. And at the first distant and faint clap of thunder, I then thought: What the hell am I doing out here in the pitch dark with a life-threatening storm on the loose? I quickly came to the mature and adult realization that reconciliation was a rather important part of ending an argument.
I also used to fight with my mom about the ability to openly use profanity around the house. Those discussions always went like this:
Me: Come on. Jon’s* mom lets him use cuss words.
Mom: Well, then pack your bag and go live with Jon and his parents.
Me: Come ON! Jon says, ‘They’re just words, Mom.’
I’m dead serious! Jon used to get away with all sorts of profanity around his house under the campaign promise that “they’re just words, Mom.” Every time I was over his house and he dropped one in front of his parents, the same thing happened:
Jon: That #$%^&^%$…I can’t believe that $%!&.
Jon’s Dad (who we’ll call Big Al): JON!
Jon’s Mom: (less forcefully) Jon.
Jon: What?!? They’re just words, Mom.
Me: (Looking around like I was going to get smacked….like I was the one who had done something wrong…)
That little stroll down rural Baltimore County’s memory lane has a point. It’s rooted in the phrase: They’re just words.
My better half is furthering her academic career in the field of speech language pathology. The discipline involves everything from treating stroke victims to helping head trauma patients to changing the trachea tubes of cancer survivors.
Kids to old folks, schools to hospitals….the different areas of specialty are almost endless. Speech language pathologists (SLPs) even assist those who can’t talk coherently, and can only “speak” by moving their eyes on a screen and having a computer communicate their intended message.
The other day, an SLP who specializes in eye movement technology came in to speak to the students.
“For someone who cannot speak, imagine how hard it can be to communicate even the simplest of messages. Even if these people use the most innovative eye movement/assisted language technology, the English language is full of words that have multiple meanings.”
Take 20 seconds and think of example words: play, light, fly, lift, break, fall, split, run ….there are hundreds if not thousands of examples of identical words that mean something totally different depending on the context in which they’re used. When you can’t speak, or you can’t give context to your language through pictures, photos, or backstory, the most mundane conversations can be exhausting experiences.
Then the SLP played for the class this video to demonstrate what she meant. It’s a powerful example of how the same spoken word can be used to express such different or diverse thoughts.
So at this point I may have to disagree with my buddy, Jon. They’re more than just words. Especially to those who can’t personally vocalize a single one of them.