Words have meaning.
So I want to find the right word. My increasing halts in conversation (and here, invisibly to you, at the keyboard) — when I'm searching for the right word — do not (necessarily) represent the onset of senility. It's that I've come to the point when I know too darn many words, and I am confident that there is a better word to use, better than the one readied on my lips.
And, I have repeatedly found that, when I use the wrong words in important conversations or writing — I have created a lot of work. I have to clean up the mess I composed.
So I pause to take another run through the linguistic mine of the mind.
Wait. Is that a linguistic mine? Or a vocabulary vein? Do I settle for a simple play on words, or pause for a potentially alliterative pun? (The comedian Steven Wright quips, "What's another word for thesaurus?")
The more serious the conversation, the more halting my speech. I sound like an (untrained) therapist, my words less natural. It sounds like I'm typing. I am. When the stakes are high, I stop talking and start writing, composing aloud.
I'm not sure if I'm finding words or fighting them.
Hold that thought.
In "Man Claims Reputation Damaged By Erroneous Charges," Jessica Miller reports this morning in The Salt Lake City Tribune that a local man was charged — and then cleared — with second-degree felony commercial terrorism.
The details of the case are available on the web, but I'll summarize: a Utahn had some right to throw away promotional pamphlets left without permission. So the Utahn threw them away.
I'm struck that the official charge includes "terrorism." Sure, "commercial terrorism" is probably something other than "terror terrorism," but — no, no way. This ain't terrorism. You know terrorism. This ain't terrorism. It's like defining pornography; as Associate Justice Potter Stewart said, "I know it when I see it."
The legislative body that originally wrote the law was closer to creating terror — by including the word "terrorism" — than the charged Utahn. ("Utahn" is the local usage.)
Words have meaning.
Here's the point: when we call everyone a terrorist, there is no such thing as a terrorist.
The issues of the day inspire us to grab language that is over-charged. Using words so cheaply demeans everyone and distracts us from the purposes of our case, our intention, our argument, our purpose.
I did this badly and recently.
I needlessly incited.
In my desire to provoke thought, I incited fear in a reader of Net Cotton Content. This reader called me on my choices of words.
In "Onward On Gender," I claimed that certain behaviors were "human rights violations" and messages that I had received were "hate mail." With this language, I engaged in bombast. My overreaching was more than rhetorical; it threatened the freedom or safety of others (including the well-educated, confident reader), because criminal courts address "human rights violations" and "hate".
Some actions are worthy of such descriptions, but I believe I lost my ability to persuade as an adult when I wrote so dramatically. In hindsight (and with the help of the reader), I believe that I would have written better, and been more adult, if I had described jurisdictional overstepping (rather than "human rights violations") and vulgar, offensive mail (rather than "hate mail").
Measure words like pearls.
Writing and speaking carefully, measuring our words like pearls, as taught by the Chofetz Chaim, is an adult behavior. (My friend, teacher, Vistage speaker and member, Alex Freytag describes "The Adult Contract." I'll write on that in coming days.)
For now, let us agree that adults don't needlessly incite. Adults aren't bombastic.