Maggie Smith / Uncategorized

The Power of a Single Word (Maggie Smith)

Flickr Creative Commons // Jason-Morrison

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” How much more false could that simple child’s rhyme be? Words have the undeniable power to soothe, to wound, to comfort, to inspire, to break hearts, to cause tears, etc. You name the concept, chances are, there is a word for it. A better saying would be something like: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Of course, that is not to be taken in a literal sense, but in the same sense that words are powerful.

In New York City, some schools are looking to ban what they consider to be “loaded” words from standardized tests. I understand that a “standardized” test is supposed to be the standard by which children’s learning is judged from year to year, but to take “loaded” and powerful words off of them seems more like sterilization to me.

Even a simple word such as “pepperoni” has been removed from the reading portions of the tests, since it’s considered to be an ethnic food that “persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in,” according to theNew York City Department of Education. Those persons may feel offended at the mere mention of a food item that they may not consume.

It’s possible that every word is offensive to someone, in some way. Every individual person is unique and has his or her own way of looking at the world. A word like “dog” could be offensive to someone (or a group of people) if they were afraid of dogs or had been mauled by a dog. Is that a reason to ban such a word? I don’t think so. I could understand if the words were somehow genuinely offensive, like curse words, or even some slang words, but these “loaded” words are ordinary. A student could find them in any fiction book. Schools are supposed to encourage reading, strengthening of vocabulary, and they’re supposed to teach students about different cultures and way of life, so it just doesn’t make sense that these words be banned from tests.

I understand that the New York City Department of Education is trying to be respectful of others’ beliefs, but in trying so hard to avoid offending someone, verbiage on tests will become sterilized to the point where all words are off-limits. Even a word like “birthday” is being questioned, since Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays.

Do we want our children to grow up in a world that is unaware and ultra-sensitive to the beliefs of others? If a child goes through life understanding that such mundane words have been banned to avoid the risk of offending someone, they will come to believe that no words are safe to use. Yes, it’s a lesson in choosing the right language in different situations, but it can also be a lesson in tolerance. There are people out there who have different belief systems than you. It’s a fact of life. You can either accept the fact that everyone’s beliefs are different, or you can get offended whenever someone happens to use a word that you don’t particularly like — and there are certainly better things to spend time on than arguing over the use of “loaded” words.

It’s evident that no matter what you do or say in life, you’re bound to offend someone, somewhere. We are all too different to have one single set of words that pleases everyone. Another often-repeated saying is this: “Variety is the spice of life.” Yes, you’re going to go through life and hear words that will offend or upset you. But you will become a stronger person… with a greater vocabulary and capacity for understanding.

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