Words without meaning*

Or a disguise of nothingness?

I have to tell you immediately this will not be a book review, nor do I want to cite things from the book with the same title. It is connected to what I believe is the phenomenon of today – uttering words that have no big purpose, nor change the reality or give meaning to a conversation, me and you. We were simply told to use them, if we want to survive, somehow.

I would love to talk about language again. Because I have always seen language as part of a human behavior. We are what we think or say or eat, or what do they say again? Language separates us from animals and…oh, do I sometimes wish we communicated on a more simple level – like animals! To call others, to mark the territory, to warn, to mate and to express dis/comfort. Because humans, as much as our languages can enrich our lives with meaning – use language to be pretentious, to control, to manipulate and to – hide!

I have three examples in mind. They are a part of my experience and if somebody wants to critisize, I can say, I have not done an extensive scientific research, involving a couple of apes (though that… is questionable) and a lab. I rely on my linguistic background and the feeling I keep getting after stumbling upon such instances.

A few years ago, when I was still very much involved in writing project applications for NGO projects’ funding, there was already a trend established. All the applicants had to learn how to fill in all the spaces to submit the application successfully. To get funding, you know. I remember one of the things you had to describe there was the ‘dissemination’ of your project. “I mean, dissemination is not even an English word. They just made it up now to suit the European standards. It’s European English – ‘europeanism’. It means you need to make a booklet or a CD or some other kind of promotional material that will advertise your project idea.” said our trainer from UK. And let’s leave aside the fact it was a neologism even the native English speakers had to learn the meaning of. The more concerning thing is that it gave no additional value to the project. Alas, it allowed money laundering. Because, let’s say you were making a booklet about your youth exchange, you had to enter the costs of a booklet being designed, printed and shared. And since it was the only allowed cost, you could put basically any amount you wanted and then get the booklet printed by a much lower price, allowing for you to earn. So, the word got a meaning. Not the one intended.

The second case is connected to the word lean. One of the instances, where it is used is the so called ‘lean management’ and how this new way of managing is supposed to be so much improved. How the managers actually listen to the employees and implement only ‘lean practices’. No waste and more efficiency. While the adjective was mostly used in the recent past for meat, where’ lean meat’ was meat with low fat, it now moved fields, being presently used as in efficient and no waste. I’ve seen new terms coined, like lean construction, lean design. Please tell me, how exactly does it change the reality? As opposed to the old simple construction now we have – a new word, which changes nothing. It advertises new and improved whatever the next thing is. But the reality usually does not change. And we mostly cannot express doubt, because this is the best new thing, the leanest of the lean and it just is like this – because if you have doubts that we are lean, well, maybe you do not belong here. Haha.

And the third example goes back to my student years when we talked about politically correct terms, euphemisms and in short, words that should now be used not to offend anybody. This could be a whole new discussion and honestly, I think people should be called nice words, even if we categorize them ‘in boxes’, which is already problematic by itself, but this example sheds a new light on another problem. Our teacher told us a story of how she heard her sons screaming at each other “You’re such a faggot (‘peder’ in Slovenian).” She approached them and told them that ‘faggot’ is not a nice word and that it offends people that are gay. That gay is a word for homosexual people. And so they continued fighting, now screaming: “You’re such a gay.”

People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.
John C. Maxwell

I think with the last example my point was stated very clearly. We cannot just change a word and expect our reality to be different. To change ourselves and our perception it takes work and understanding, it takes changing reality, not just words.
Inventing new words just to tell you in a new, fancy way what you already know, is sadly a new way to disguise what is behind them. We do not need more advertising, more emptiness and nothingness. We need an honest discussion, not just how the word was created, but what is the real meaning behind it and how it affects us.
Are we ready to embrace the reality and honestly speak about things that might be difficult? And if not, how long are we going to hide behind the ‘state secret’ before new and new catastrophes happen?

*Words without meaning is also a book by  Christopher Gauker

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