Words: Use with care


By The Rev. Jeremy Myers

I have a word of the day calendar sitting on my nightstand.

My wife and kids got it for me this past Christmas. I’ve wanted one for quite some time now, since I was in high school, to be exact. A good friend who attended school with me had one. I’m not sure if it was the calendar or the fact that he was disgustingly intelligent, but he was never without an interesting, if not insanely obscure word. He was the very definition of the word verbose.

I couldn’t do anything about my level of intelligence, but I always thought that perhaps having one of those calendars could help me at least fake it a little. So my family helped me accomplish a childhood dream, lame though it may be, and has been joining me on a journey into the gaping abyss of the English vernacular.

We’ve developed a little family tradition centering around this calendar. Every night before bed, the whole family assembles in my room and anxiously awaits the revelation of the next day’s word. I remove the current page and place it in a pile for future reference. I then make my best effort to pronounce the word for the day to come, often doing it heinous violence in the process, and attempt to use it appropriately in a sentence.

For the most part, I think my family is more interested in hearing me trip over my tongue than in learning the words. I can’t really blame them as it’s just as humorous to me as it is to them, but we have encountered some interesting linguistic offerings thus far.

Robyn and I have even been able to incorporate a few of the words into our daily conversations. For instance, Robyn has begun encouraging me to be less lugubrious and to be exceedingly uxorious. Lugubrious means to be glum, gloomy or mournful (I regretted that one as I was reading it to her), and uxorious means to excessively dote on one’s wife.

Two can play at that game, though. So I informed her she needs to be less quixotic and that I wouldn’t let her animadversions ruin my sangfroid. Quixotic means idealistic or impractical, animadversion means a critical comment and sangfroid means to possess a cool head and maintain composure. Not to be left out, the kids say our word games are more annoying than a callithump. A callithump is a loud and lively band.

Our word games have been all in good fun, and we truly have been learning over the last several months. Those who know me know I enjoy a good word. Knowing what words mean, however, is only half the battle.

The words we know are only as useful as the good we choose to do with them. In one of the more well-known passages in the Bible, we find this warning: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Good words used in a bad way are no more than empty, obnoxious and even harmful noise. They are, in fact, a callithump.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I don’t know who came up with that saying, but they were about as wrong as they could be. Words absolutely can hurt, and sometimes, the damage they do is more permanent than what could be done by sticks and stones.

But just as words can do damage, they can also build up and bring healing. When our words are mixed with compassion, care and concern, they can help heal wounds, restore hearts and refocus minds. Our words can help rebuild those whom life has beaten down, bring hope where there is heartache and bring light where there is darkness.

There is immense power in our words, and we must seek to use them responsibly and with grace.

I would apologize for the prolixity of this article (prolixity refers to a piece of writing that is deliberately wordy), but that would be disingenuous. I love words and like to use them. I enjoy my calendar that daily exposes me to new-to-me gems with which I can express myself.

To the best of my ability, I attempt to use these powerful tools for good. I hope you too will commit to use the linguistic tools at your disposal equally honorably for the good of those who hear them. Because unlike the calendar-inspired back and forth at the Myers house, life is not a game and words can do real damage.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display