Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is that what they're calling it now?

I can always tell when my first generation Greek neighbors are arguing. Their tone is elevated, their speech more rapid, and they always speak in Greek. To do so requires less thought. It comes naturally.

Greek is the language of their heart.

Language is a funny subject. What are words but symbols to convey meaning? I don’t know how it happens, but over time, (and sometimes right before our very eyes) meaning becomes understood and accepted by the masses and before you know it, you’ve adopted into your vocabulary a new word, or an old one with new meaning,

Take the restaurant Hooter’s, for example. Known for their hot wings, a sports bar theme and female servers that have at least one physical quality in common, our culture has deemed it OK to have a place with a name corresponding to female breasts. We can call the place “Hooter’s” but couldn’t get away with calling it “Titties.”

But who’s to say that in four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years from now, the word “Titties” won’t have different meaning? This happened with the word “suck.” My first recollection of the use of that word was at basketball games during college. It was usually in conjunction with a referee’s bad call against our team. Some half (or completely) drunk guy would yell, “Hey ref, you suck!” or “That call sucks…” I’m not na├»ve enough to think that the he was implying a reference to a vacuum cleaner.

But before long, the crowd embraced the phrase and it became a chant across the student section in the arena. One side would yell, “Hey ref….” and the other section of students would return with “…you suck!” Over time, the term became innocuous and nobody really thought about what it meant.

In my other life, I once remember hearing a guy use nearly half a sermon to explain why nothing should ever “suck” to a Christ follower and how all good people need to strike that word as an option. Afterward, nearly every student I talked with asked, “What was that guy’s deal?” He was not tuned into the heart language of his audience, and was applying a law of language that never needed to be enforced.

My point is this; words are what they are because of the meaning WE give to them.

Don’t get hung up on how people talk or the words they use; don’t try and change the way they speak. Don’t have an unwritten glossary of words that are unacceptable and cannot be used. Remember to listen to the heart speak and not just the words. Sometimes to focus only on the words that are being said is the quickest way to misunderstand what a person is trying to say.


co_heir said...

You mean "Hooters" isn't referring to owls? :D

I dealt with the whole language thing a lot when I taught in Christian schools. You're correct that we have to listen to more than just the words.

Maria said...

I've had to purge a lot of words out of my vocabulary -- churchy, Christianese words that mean less than nothing (or something entirely off-putting) to people who haven't been indoctrinated into them. I think twice about silly things like saying "I'm blessed" when I really mean "I was lucky." You're right about getting past the offensiveness of certain words -- and the corollary is to make sure we don't use words that are offensive because they tell someone else they don't belong to our club.

Marcia C said...

And then there is the cultural component. I once read a story written by an Australian, in which the word "hooter" referred to a car horn.