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I remember a few years back reading a book that’s basic bottom line was that words themselves have no ethical meaning it is only context that creates the weight of the word. If you swear at someone it is only a word, but the context and emotion we put behind it is the very thing that makes people react.
This is where we need to take a deeper look at what language actually is. For most people to have a word stand by itself and proudly saying I know the meaning of this word, is far less significant as to where and when to use it. And so the idea of ‘language’ takes hold. In fact virtually every time we open our mouth to speak or write we are making some ethical decisions inside our head as to how we want to say something. Using exactly the same words we can create two or more different scenarios that have different weight.
Here is the commonly accepted meaning of the word ‘language’:
the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
As you can see the definition clearly separates words from language, that language in itself is about communication and inside the concept of communication lies the world of everything and anything.
It also declares that the ‘use of words in a structured and conventional way’ is the most important part of the communication.
The interesting point here is not so much the world of the words and their meaning, but the ‘conventional’ aspect of it. These conventions have to be commonly accepted as the correct way to put forward an idea – correct combinations of words that hold a certain meaning. Take one word out of that conventional format and you will change everything. The words themselves are not of any significance but when put in conjunction with others in a certain situation, you have yourself a language or the concept could then be considered ‘ethical’.
The reason for why I’ve written this post is because I do find it fascinating different peoples feelings to certain words. Some words standing alone are considered offensive, and yet standing alone are they not just a group of letters put together in a certain arrangement?
We all know that some words some people find offensive and some people find them entertaining or of no consequence, however (particularly in comedy) some words are used in such a way that they become completely acceptable to those who would have previously found them unacceptable.
The most interesting thing I have found is when you teach children new words. Some words are offensive to you because you some history of what that word has meant to you, however the word to the child is simply just ‘another word’, and are often shocked by your reaction to it.
The question of the post is ‘do words have ethics?’ My answer is no. Words are only the vehicles that language uses to express ideas. What ideas they are depends on the driver of that vehicle. Just as someone might say a car is a dangerous vehicle, well, if the driver is drunk…yet, if the driver is sober and clear headed – no.