Engaging Culture

Communicators: Words You Choose Are More Important Than You Think

If you’re a professional communicator, you need to understand just how much your word choices can impact perception.  Just look at how much the national conversation began changing when liberals started calling themselves “progressives,” or homosexuals started calling themselves “gay.”  In other places, writers and speakers began using “extremists” for positions never even considered extreme before.

Politicians casually call each other “terrorists” without a thought to the implications.  Political leaders today have popularized asking for tax hikes based on the rich paying their “fair share.”  But what exactly is a “fair share” and who determines it?  Recently, I’ve noticed the trend in using the word “unhoused” for the “homeless.”

On the right or left, religious or non-religious, using the different words can begin to shift popular perceptions – particularly in the media, which then trickles down to the culture at large.

Today, you rarely hear the Biblical term “sin,” because it’s been replaced with “symptom.” I could go on and on, but the point is, every word matters, and the right word matters even more. In a media driven culture, how you describe a cause, movement, political party, religious affiliation, organization or person will have a significant impact on the target audience’s perception.

Whether it’s from the pulpit, or in the media, words matter.  And it’s worth mentioning Winston Churchill’s remark that, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

Be careful out there. You can build or you can damage, just by the power of the words you choose.

Any good examples to share?

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  1. Oh how true! And how about the casual use of words formerly considered vulgarity, or even cursing!! Our language can be so beautiful and we are blessed with so many more words to choose from than many who speak in other tongues… what a joy it is to read the “old words” and how exciting to find a modern communicator who carefully crafts a message using wonderful descriptive phrases that evoke the imagination. Words are indeed powerful things – we should choose them wisely.

  2. Too true. My personal bête noire right now is the use of the word ‘elite’ or ‘elitist’. The meaning of that word has been changed so as to mean… well, I’m not sure what people want it to mean any longer, but it seems to have negative connotations for a lot of people.

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