Worthy and Unworthy Words
It is already a year since COVID-19 arrived on our doorstep. It took us by surprise, and having to adjust to a new way of living resulted in many significant changes. Perhaps because we were limited in our social interactions, I took to listening more than usual.
What I discovered, is that people seem to have lost the art of good conversation. Living in a small bubble with the occasional Zoom calls has wrecked havoc on our dialogue. People have lapsed into using the meaningless phrase “you know” almost all the time. It is inserted into many sentences as fillers, avoiding gaps in speech.
It is rather tiresome to hear those words over and over again, especially when listening to TV commentators trying to make a relevant point. I have attempted to count the “you know” in some speeches, and given up in exasperation
Interjections like “I guess/I mean,” are “basically” unconscious devices that act as a pause in a sentence, as speakers gather their thoughts. However, these fillers have infiltrated our daily conversations to the point of damaging the power and beauty of verbal communication. These conversation fillers can be conversation killers.
Someone recently said, “Singing songs is like, totally fun at family gatherings, you know.” Removing “like, “totally” and “you know” the sentence is simple, “Singing songs is fun at family gatherings.” This verbal virus can be distracting by excessive overuse.
Perhaps you will agree with me that the idiomatic use of the word “like” has reached epidemic proportions!
Then there are the common responses “exactly,” “tell me about it,” “absolutely,” as one chats with another, followed by a sprinkling like raisins in a bowl of raisin bran of “it is what it is,” because “at the end of the day” the Coronavirus will be hanging around for a while, alas!
I wonder what George Bernard Shaw the author of Pygmalion would say about how we speak today. The musical “My Fair Lady” based on that play, has Rex Harrison in the role of Professor Henry Higgins bemoaning the fact that people have butchered the English language.
Annoyed, he sings, “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” If training Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) a common flower girl, to achieve a better accent with the social advantages that accompany it was exhausting, imagine his dismay at hearing how we talk.
Of course, other than the common phrases cited, we have over the past year acquired a new vocabulary, pandemic related! We are now all so familiar with what the following words mean: herd immunity; flatten the curve; PPE; super-spreader; asymptomatic… Social distancing is a MUST, as we have learned that quarantine and isolation are not the same thing.
On the plus side, forced to stay home to avoid spreading the virus, has given me the opportunity to read good books. Moving from our everyday lives crowded with too many unworthy words, to Scripture with the divine stamp, definitely lifts my spirits.
I love the Prologue to John’s Gospel, and often say aloud, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” The first word of the Hebrew Scripture bereshit, means beginning. The WORD was “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” The amazing thing was that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – fully human and fully divine.
Henri Nouwen says, “the word has the power to create. When God speaks, God creates. When God says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), light is…for God speaking and creating is the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is very important. When we say, “I love you,” and say it from the heart, we give another person new life, new hope, new courage.”
My spiritual life is nourished by God’s word, described as being both milk and solid food in Hebrews 5:12-14, and I am delighted by the spiritual nutrients I receive. I often walk around my kitchen singing, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) believing that God is guiding me along the way.
Undoubtedly, I receive strength during trials and difficulties when I meditate on Jesus’ words, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and acts on them…is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock, and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” (Luke 6:47-48)
At every Mass, we are invited to, “Lift up your hearts,” and our reply is, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Since we say these words so often, they can become routine. If we ponder them, we can truly be brought into God’s presence.
Words do have a huge impact and create a lasting memory. Our choice of words, worthy or unworthy, and the way we express them, can make a big difference. As St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”