Language is precious; use it wisely

Published 9:06 pm Saturday, September 13, 2008

We human beings just love to label things. This habit must have started in Eden when Adam and Eve started giving names to all the animals. Language had to begin somewhere, and I suppose we learn and adapt from those before us.

A couple of instances this week made me think more about how we use this thing we’re given — this language thing.

My grandson has begun to assimilate language. He’s learning through responses and repetition. It’s cute. You ask him how a dog goes, and he says, “oof, oof.”

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I wonder what happened in his brain to allow him to associate the “woof” or “oof” with dogs. Likely, it comes from his parents and the books they read together. But how did they agree on the definition without specifically talking about it?

How do we learn what others mean?

I have a friend, an editor of a Mississippi newspaper, who takes her adult children there every couple of years and they have their photographs made in front of where the FBI launched its assault on the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh.

I asked her why the fascination. She replied, “It’s the cult thing.” I nodded, assuming I understood what she meant. I mean, we all know that religions or groups outside of our way of doing things must be cults, because they’re different. And, because of what happened in the jungle of South America with Jim Jones’ group, then cults must exist in the column of badness we have reserved for the unmentionable.

My nightstand reading has revolved around the events at Waco several years ago.

A book by a couple of professors of religion, “Why Waco?” asserts if authorities and Koresh had come to agreements about what the leader meant by his assertions he had to finish his treatise on the New Testament book of Revelations. If they could have agreed on definitions, instead of applying labels to size up one another, a good many men, women and children might have survived.

That brings me to us living here in Selma. How many times have we tossed about labels to describe people who walk outside our version of normal? Or how many times have we become defensive to the point of paranoia because someone slapped a label on us?

Language is precious. We should use it thoughtfully, as we would a present someone gave us to mark some special occasion. Most of all, we should use it for learning and understanding, instead of tossing about invectives without explaining ourselves or reaching a common definition.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of The Selma Times-Journal. She may be reached at 410-1730 or e-mail her at