From our first utterance of partially formed syllables, we are taught to choose our words carefully. We are told that in addition to the important facets of speech being reiterated constantly as though repetition would instill deep understanding, there are also bad words. Words never to leave one’s lips, no matter the outrage or offense. Inevitably, we learn these words without being directly taught, but most obedient children still abide by their parents’ admonitions. It is an instinctual reaction to please those we care for and who care for us, but not a conscious choice made by rational, sound thought.
Before long, with the advent of school and play-dates, the spectrum of acceptable and unacceptable words broaden, throwing light on some areas previously murky, but dirtying others that were once pristine, creating so many muddy shades of grey. When do we use these questionable assemblages of letters? What does it really matter, anyway? It’s a lot to expect of children who can not yet safely cross the street by themselves.
When I was in such a state of early confusion, wresting with the limited and crude dictionary that I had managed to cobble together, I wish someone would have only warned me this: Tread gently with your words. We all speak the same language at home, but each individual still takes ownership of vastly different definitions to the exact same lines. Innocent words can be interpreted with negative connotations; Thoughtless expletives directed at no one in particular in a moment of blind rage can offend more than the accusation itself; Enemies are far easier to forge in an age when we are all so sensitive to language.
Out of common respect, don’t lightly drop words that could just as easily be made out as atomic bombs. My friend here, for example, has been jokingly called a “big ape” more times than he would care to count. Everyone who light-heartedly assigned him this unflattering title meant no harm I’m sure, but that doesn’t remove the sting of their venom. Some times it’s hard to hear the best intentions over a defamatory remark that echoes so loudly within one’s own insecurities. If they could only realize their mistake, however, they should know that even beyond their simple slip of the tongue, that he’s a chimpanzee, not an ape at all!
Certainly he’s not model, nor brain surgeon, nor ballet dancer, but using such a careless label loaded with unfavorable meaning harms him more than these traits themselves. Condemned to a life of being perceived as an ungraceful buffoon, a “big ape,” how could he not be hurt by such a sentence? Think what you want of him, but when that goofy smile of his loops its way across his kind and gentle face, only the cruelest eye could ever see him in such a demeaning light.
So please, be careful with your words. Even that “big ape” you see from afar has feelings, too.