Tip/Thought of the Day

The Power of Words

Words are amazing. Just a slight tweak and they can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Someone who’s described negatively as obsessive and compulsive can be flipped to someone who shows persistence until success is achieved! A far more positive perspective.

Was it crazy that it took Edison 1,000 times to figure out how to make a light bulb work? Without his dogged unwillingness to quit we might be using candles to this day. In that light, it’s actually honorable. To others it could have been an easy way to commit him after the 999th try! 

Think about it, your drive, excitement and belief can easily be turned into a negative if viewed differently by others. So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Can both be true?

I never realized the amazing breadth and brilliance of the English language until I was raising a little girl.

As she grew up I began to see how gender impacted speech. My breathtaking, intelligent, precocious child was defined differently with each passing year depending on what she was doing. 

On the high stool debate team the girls were often referred to as bossy, emotional, cute, feisty, but not the boys. They were aggressive leaders who showed ingenuity and drive. 

I soon realized how words were used to define a girl differently than a boy. And how many were meant to tamp down her spirit and goals or minimize her achievements.

When was the last time you heard a boy called emotional? Yet we all have emotions. Boys erupt and it’s just letting off steam, when girls do it they’re hysterical or unstable. In one study, irritating was found 17 more times in a woman’s professional performance review as compared to a man’s. It was a euphemism for being “too aggressive” where men who were actually seen as too timid and hesitant were actually encouraged to be more aggressive.

A man is strong and forthright, a woman pushy and demanding.

It may seem silly, but these aren’t just words, they can have real life implications in employment settings and everyday relationships. 

In context, even the exact same words can be clearly seen as either positive or pejorative.

How something is presented can impact how it’s viewed. A slight change in wording can alter the entire meaning and slant of the reference. Language and its nuances can enhance or diminish. Like these examples commonly used to describe men and women where one is viewed as a negative, the other a positive. And few of the negatives are ever used for males.

Spinster/devoted bachelor 

Emotional/ thoughtful

Aggressive/ powerful

Bossy/ Assertive

Intense/ focused  

Forward/ ambitious

Gossip/ in the know 

Loner/ independent

Fragile/ gentle 

Dependent / team player 

Nag/ persistent 

Obsessive/ goal oriented 

Cold/ objective

Sensitive/ thoughtful 

Timid/ cautious

Militant / strong 

Slut/ playboy 

Baby weight, Plus size (ever referred to a man this way?)/ larger than life

Neurotic/ persistent 

Hysterical, irrational/ analytical

Maternal/ caring

Working mother or career woman -ever seen “Dad” after those words? For decades I was referred to as a “single, working mother”. As though that said it all, defined every aspect of my life. For some it was positive, for far too many others, it was not.

The English language and its nuances are amazing. 

Words matter.

Too often we pick words without thinking of their consequences, how they are heard or the impact they have on others. How we communicate speaks volumes on how we see ourselves and the world we live in.

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