Friday, June 28, 2024

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of the year). Authentic was chosen as our society transitions into the AI landscape, and more of us are questioning how authenticity factors into the new age. If the previous honorees are any indication, the word of the year serves as a snapshot of society’s collective consciousness. Each year, the dictionary maker, one of the most trusted sources for understanding the meaning of words, awards this annual distinction based on search volume and other metrics. The word of the year for 2022 was “gaslight” and in 2020, “pandemic” held the top spot. It should be noted that these words chosen for WOTY are only according to Merriam-Webster. Oxford and Dictionary.com have other words chosen as WOTY. This underscores that words can reflect the temperature of a society and communicate its deeper-held beliefs and collective consciousness. Is there one word out there that one can categorize and the most destructive word in English? On the flip side, what is the most constructive word in our vernacular? I would argue the most destructive word is “BUT!” The word but can be used to not only point out negativity but also to negate any positive aspects that have been subscribed to a person, etc. For example, sometimes we hear that person is very kind and sweet BUT… The moment we hear the BUT, we might completely forget any positive attributes and only remember the negative. If we hear about a restaurant the food is good BUT, we tend to focus on the negative. We actually learn this profound lesson in our weekly parsha. The Torah describes the spies returning from the Land of Israel; they initially start describing the positive virtues. They then qualify their initial praise by uttering אפס or BUT.. They went on to talk about the power of the then-occupants of the land and how it would be difficult to defeat the natives. The people eagerly bought this pessimistic narrative, and the rest of it is history. One can reasonably ask, since the spies did not speak of anything that was an outright lie, why are they responsible for the report they delivered? This goes back to the most destructive word… BUT. Once the people heard the word BUT, they were unable to process anything positive about the Land of Israel. In this context, the most constructive word is “AND.” One can say that a person is sweet and kind but has a challenge with something else. That leaves the impression of a balanced perspective, with the positive feedback still remaining true. In our polarized world, we must be more careful than ever to use out language as a source of healing and support and not the opposite. One great way is to contemplate how often we utilize the word “BUT” in our conversation. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

No comments:

Post a Comment

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...