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Choosing Your Words Wisely Will Empower You And Those Around You

03/21/2013 08:01 am ET | Updated May 21, 2013

"I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the job of writing them."~Anne Rice

The vernacular of our language changes every day. Words that were used centuries ago may no longer exist today. They disappear, or change meaning or are no longer relevant in today's society.

This week, I was disturbed by some words I read, words that were written by people I thought were intelligent and well educated. Our words are a direct reflection of our deepest beliefs and convictions. They can have the power to move, enlighten and educate, yet can also disturb, anger and ruffle a few feathers. The old saying, "words can hurt" has been around for a long time for a reason: it's true.

Let's go back -- way back -- for just a moment. See if you can translate the meaning of this passage from Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales (1380's):

"This frère bosteth that he knoweth helle,
And God it woot, that it is litel wonde
Freres and feendes been but lyte asunder.
For, pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle.."

Give up? Here's the translation:

"This friar boasts that he knows hell,
And God knows it is little wonder;
Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.
For, by God, you have offttimes heard tell.."

Don't worry if you couldn't understand this passage. Chaucer was a poet from The Middle Ages, so even us boomers weren't around when he wrote it (small chuckle).

Words can change over time; sometimes new ones replace the old ones. Perhaps they've become inappropriate, have negative connotations or simply change meanings because of cultural changes.

One example of the definition of a word changing due to cultural changes is the word "gay". In the 1934 movie musical "The Gay Divorcee", "gay" meant lighthearted or happy. It wasn't until the mid 20th century that the meaning went through several transformations. Today the word "gay" mostly refers to someone's sexual orientation.

This week, as I quickly glanced at some Facebook posts, I noticed one post in particular from someone I barely knew. Reading it sent shivers down my spine. There were only six words:

"The Kardashians is a retarded show."

The mere mention of the "r" word instantly reminded me of being back in elementary school. There was a class across the hall from mine where all the (insert "r" word) students were. That's what my classmates called them. Hearing it always made me sick to my stomach.

In the late 1960s, there were no IEP's, no diagnoses of OCD or ADHD, no self-contained classrooms for children with learning disabilities. Today when I think about that classroom, it saddens me to think of how those students and their parents were treated, and what they must have endured.

So I would like to say to the person who wrote the post about The Kardashians: Shame on you.

Here are a few other words that have changed over time:

Handicapped to Disabled: After The Crimean War, the British Parliament made it legal for returning veterans, permanently hurt in the war, to beg for money on the street. They placed their "cap in hand" = handicapped. This word is no longer acceptable, and does not appear anywhere in The Americans For Disabilities Act. The word "disabled" has replaced "handicapped."
Victim to (Fill in your own word): This is a pet peeve of mine. I recently read an article focusing on the recent diagnosis of a famous person with Multiple Sclerosis as being a "victim." We are not victims as in a victim of a crime. We are people with a chronic illnes.
Spam: In an episode of M*A*S*H, the animal-loving Radar O'Reilly sent a lamb back home to Iowa before it could be slaughtered. The cook, covering up for the missing dinner, prepared a SPAM ham. Yes, before computers, the word "SPAM" was best known as a pre-cooked, canned "meat product." Ugh.
Commode: From a piece of furniture standing on legs to a toilet.
Fag: A British term for a cigarette, it was later used as a slur against effeminate men. I always hated that word.
Friend: Prior to social media, a friend was your ally or someone you trusted and cared about. Today it's used as a verb, meaning someone you may not know or perhaps even met.

"Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much." ~Blaise Pascal

Do you have words that you dislike? Are there other words you can think of that have changed over time?