Words kind of run my life as a writer. So I think about them all the time—how they work together, how they change with context, how they define all these aspects of our lives—semantics, essentially. Words carry weight, that’s undeniable. But too often we get caught up in the semantics that we start to miss the point. We can’t see the forest for the trees—we think if we call something by another name, it changes the meaning entirely, and that cannot be true.
Politically, socially, and practically I’ve lately been paying more and more attention to the way we use and manipulate words to get what we want or to get a point across. We add weight to words to make issues seem larger than they are—often to a fault. We decorate sentences with flowery language to hide something in the tangles. We act one way and speak a different way because words are disputable when actions are not. Think about the word “literally.” In an epic scene from one of my favorite shows, The Newsroom, Jane Fonda brings to light the fact that the dictionary has added a definition to the word “literally” which states that the word can mean “figuratively.” She blames the fact that people continually misused the word “literally” so much that the dictionary made the definition cater to those who used the word correctly, so now when someone says “literally” we don’t necessarily know if they mean actually or figuratively. How wild is that?
I don’t think I have a point here. Semantics is the point. Words do have meaning, but maybe keep an eye on the actions that follow the words. Don’t miss the forest for all the trees.