I don’t speak anything other than English, even though I took a couple years of Latin in high school a hundred years ago. I did find those classes helpful in deciphering the meanings of many words in Webster’s Dictionary, because Latin was one of the first languages and everything has to have a beginning.
English happens to be one of the most complicated on the planet. In preparing for this post, I had to look up the meaning for homonym, homograph and homophone. Even the definition is complex -because they mean much the same. A homophone is a word that sounds similar, usually isn’t spelled the same and has a different meaning – stairs/stares. A homograph is a group or pair of words which is spelled the same, but have a different meaning – heir/air. A homonym is spelled the same, but may have multiple meanings – suit yourself/wear a suit.
All of that is enough to confuse the most masterful wordsmith. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t do well in English. Add to this confusion words like homophobe, homocentric, homosexual and homogeneous and you open a whole new can of worms. The Greek root word for homo means “same”. That might clear things up a bit.
Words can create such wild visions in the mind of a child – hey, they can do the same for an old lady too. For example the difference in gorilla and guerilla had “young me” conjuring up thoughts of giant apes with AK47s running around the battlefield. The Marine Corps and Marine Corpse took on a whole different meaning, when our last president mixed up the word.
My husband had an employee who often used the wrong word. Apparently he didn’t do well in English either when he referred to a driver who was driving erotically down the road. I had a student that referred to me as “commanding” rather than “demanding, but he could’ve been right in his description either way.
When my youngest daughter pointed to her chest one day and said she had a pain in her scrotum, the entire family erupted in laughter – something that continues to haunt her.
I am reminded of the sage words of my grandmother as she advised, “don’t sit on concrete. You’ll get piles.” Piles of what, I wondered. I had nightmares about mountainous cement growths coming out of my back side. Of course anyone who has experience the pain of hemorrhoids would probably agree to the concept completely.
Words we use to reprimand our children can alter the way they think about things. I have told my children 100,000 times to do something, but who was counting? I rebuked them when they didn’t clean their plates, as children in other countries were starving. How would their cleaning their plates keep those other kids from starving? Or if your best friend jumped off a bridge, would you? Come on, people. Let’s give our kids some credit.
Words can move people to action. They can inspire, encourage and amuse. They can hurt and emotionally scar as well. When we use them, we must be careful. As writers, we have an extra obligation to use them with the utmost consideration. The tongue can be the strongest member in the human body. The pen can be even stronger.