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Words Mean Things!

I consider myself a lover of words and communication. We live in a time where terminology changes rapidly and new words are added to our vocabulary on a daily basis. Being a writer, I identify with words and languages on a very personal level. I don’t really consider language to correlate directly with foreign languages…I look at it more to as a vein of communication. I’ve always been a big promoter of the phrase, “words mean things.” With that being said, we have to mindful of (even if its subconsciously) of the language we utilize when around certain individuals, this is called code-switching. Code-switching is defined as the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. So I wouldn’t speak the same way around my academic colleagues as I would my friends, or I wouldn’t speak the same around my friends as I would my family. Matt Thompson, a writer for NPR.com, lists the five reasons why people code-switch as: our lizard brains, take over, we want to fit in, we want to get something, we want to say something in secret, or it helps us convey a thought (Thompson). Most of the time when I code-switch it’s because I want to say something in secret. Using different vocal inflection or words I know the intended person would understand the connotation of versus the denotation. To fully understand the use of a word and interpret it correctly, you need to know the denotation (the definition) and the connotation (the emotions associated with it). Connotative words fall into 3 categories: positive, neutral, and negative. Example…the words unique, different, and peculiar are all synonyms and denote the same thing, but the connotations are different. Unique has a positive connotation, different is neutral, while peculiar gives off a negative feeling. Being unaware of the connotative meaning of the words you choose to use in your writing can lead to the reader mistaking your intent and change the whole mood of your what you write. This is also true when speaking. An example of this happened just a few short weeks ago during a debate between President Donald Trump and then Presidential candidate, now President-Elect Joe Biden. When asked about the far-right group of white supremacists, The Proud Boys, Trump responded, "The Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” “After the debate, in the Proud Boys' Telegram channel, members boasted of Mr. Trump's reaction. They used "stand back" and "stand by" in the logo and posted videos from the debate with the caption "God. Family. Brotherhood.” “Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which characterizes the Proud Boys as an extremist group, tweeted after the debate that he was unsure if Mr. Trump's reaction to the Proud Boys was "an answer or an admission." He called for Mr. Trump to apologize” (Quinn). President Trump’s words can be interpreted in various ways, but it sends a message, nonetheless. To those who support Trump, it was a message of support and a call to action, and to those who oppose it, it was construed as a call for civil unrest. Connotative diction is an influential literary tool that can change the whole mood of your writing, intentionally or unintentionally. This may not be the best example, but I do think it’s a powerful example, that backs my initial point, “Words mean things”.



Thompson, Matt. “Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch.” NPR, NPR, 13 Apr. 2013, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/04/13/177126294/five-reasons-why-people-code-switch.

Quinn, Melissa. “‘Stand Back and Stand by’: Trump Declines to Condemn White Supremacists at Debate.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 30 Sept. 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/proud-boys-stand-back-and-stand-by-trump-refuses-to-condemn-white-supremacists/.


Author: William Jones
Last modified: 7/2/2021 12:22 AM (EDT)