It’s only words?

Ping! The sound heralding another email, landing in my increasingly large inbox, requiring my urgent attention. Naturally I ignored the little prompt that appeared at the bottom right hand corner of my screen and carried on with my vain attempt to write copy for a new tennis campaign.

After a quick stroll to the kitchen to make my third cup of tea, it was only half past nine, I decided to open the email. I doubled clicked and up popped the note. Great! I thought. It was the edited copy for a new brochure we’re producing to promote sport and leisure in Swansea, fresh from the copy-writing experts. I read through it word for word, checking against my original draft, looking for the changes. I am happy to say that there weren’t that many. But what changes the copy-writer had made appeared to lift the copy of the page, almost giving it life.

Later, over a cappuccino I began to reflect on the importance of language. And how we structure sentences and order words can give different meanings to the things we say.

My thoughts drifted to last Thursday’s Question Time on BBC One. When BNP leader Nick Griffin said “I can’t tell you why I changed my mind…”. He did try to explain that it was because of some European Union law but couldn’t be heard because the other panelists were ripping into him, and rightly so. There is no place in civil society and democratic Britain for the BNP and their extremist policies centred on hate. The debate could have been quite different had he started his sentence by saying ‘Europan Union law prevents me…’

I recalled stories I’d read and heard recently about the use of the ‘P’ word by BBC Strictly Come Dancing celebrities Bruce Forsyth and Anton Du Beke http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8296386.stm and by John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today programme. I understand the pain and distress the word can cause people. I was called it as a child, just because my skin was little bit darker than the other children. I had to endure names like ‘brown owl’ and ‘chocky’ throughout my childhood.

Anyway, a Boyzone song came to mind, a little ironic given recent events – ‘It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away’. And I thought of language, words. How we use them? Who’s listening? How are they’re being interpreted?

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? How do we interpret and understand what someone is saying without our own thoughts and judgements complicating matters?

I suppose we’ve really got to look beyond the words to the person speaking – who are they? What are they like? Good? Bad? Have they got previous form? What opinions have they previously expressed? It is when we look at the bigger picture that we become better placed to contextualise what is being said and get a truer sense of what is being said. It is how we are able to separate the hateful views of Nick Griffin from the foolish ignorance of Bruce Forsyth.

That said, there is a responsibility placed on the speaker to consider his/her audience and choose their words carefully. After all, they may be only words but they cause a lot of hurt – they do say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’

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