Thursday, October 23, 2008

Powerful Words

There's a great power in words, if you don't hitch too many of them together. - Josh Billings

Words are powerful. I noticed recently that when certain words come out of unexpected mouths, I sit up and take more notice. In coming across this new-to-me blog, I've remembered how healing words can be. And I noticed how knowing certain jargonal words might help someone feel control in a situation that is really not theirs to control.

I'm fascinated by words and their meanings and et·y·mol·o·gies. It started with foreign languages and has evolved to include the evolution of English, street slang, proverbs, catch phrases and mottos. Despite this, I'm not always precise in my use of words and language and in fact, sometimes, on purpose, play with words, such as jargonal, above. Nowadays, after reading this post by Erin McKean, my favorite lexicographer, I almost want people to tell me 'that's not a word,' so I can smile and say 'oh.'

The inspiration for this entry is the strange and unexpected utterance of medical terminology from a non-medical source. E and I have talked a bit lately about how people suffering or believing they suffer from some symptom, syndrome, condition or disease may actually know more about said symptom, syndrome, condition or disease than their medical personnel, because they research it unendingly on the Internet. Now, I think this can be valuable to get some background, read some explanations and learn about options that may not be common knowledge in your own community, but sometimes I think all that's happening is they are learning the words, but not all the connected ideas and experiences that accompany them.

Just using the words might provide some feeling of control in an insane world, but does it really foster understanding or closeness? Or does it simply provide family, friends and loved ones a distancing medical language to use instead of sharing their fears and sadness? In theory, I would much rather tell a patient that they have Stage 5 something or other than to use the words, 'you're dying,' but I think the honesty, commitment and caring in the second are much more powerful than the first. [I do recognize the power of suggestion, especially in words spoken by The Medical Profession and I don't know yet how to balance that with allowing an individual to die with dignity.]

I remember my own experience online when I was sick. Everything I read and even people in the online support group I found told me that I shouldn't/wouldn't/couldn't live beyond 5 years. What did they know?

Not me.

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