Languages are forever evolving, depending on shifting understandings and cultural context, the watering down of some definitions and the recasting of others. This is true of the English language in general, and the ways we use it, and even more so when it comes to the vernacular of both informal and professional sub-groups. Vernacular involves a particular emphasized vocabulary shared in common by folks with mutual association or interests, involving not only specialized connotations of broadly known words, but also definitive slang or jargon that is by nature incomprehensible to those outside the group or field. Understanding amongst any group is based first and foremost on the extent of shared definitions and the clarity of communication. The cohesiveness and progress of those identifying with a certain activity or purpose, is in part determined by the terminology we collectively select and employ. And our effect on others and this world, hangs not only our efforts but on the words that we choose.
The word “water” will not in and of itself sate our thirst or float our boat, and is thus no substitute for the real thing it describes. Far too many people get caught up in mental imaging and discourse, to the point of residing largely inside their minds instead of the actual reality their bodies move through, objectifying their feelings, reducing everything to what appears to be equally significant stories, making it easier for them to do nothing about the pain and structure of their lives, or to actively respond to the destruction and injustice of our times.
On the other hand, when we either hear the sounds or see letters that together form “water”, we may informed of someone’s need for a drink, the Southwest ecosystem’s need for rain, or even our own called for role as a potential provider of that precious liquid to houseplants or a garden that need our assistance or some family without working plumbing or a well. It may be communicated to us that a certain river is in danger from pollution or proposed damming, and in that way alert us to what we might be able to do to either remedy or resist. Inscribed in a well crafted essay, it can not only evoke hot aromatic tea or the caress of a skin stimulating waterfall, but also the connotations of subsistence or cleansing, of transparency or the ability to transform, of the cycles of human culture as well as the more literal cycles or evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Nor are word associations always so literal. When I say that some terms have been “watered down”, it’s doubtful that you picture an actual, soaking wet document, and more likely that you perceive an expression that has been thinned and diluted beyond recognition, of little remaining use. And often these word associations hinge on endemic or situational reference. If our reference is physical constitutions and healing, for example, we may be reminded of the five elements model where identifying a client as “water” can be of immense help in understanding how their bodies respond to various illnesses and the actions of herbs, as well as in determining the best course of treatment. Finally, we know that when read in the lines of a particularly emotive poem, the mere mention of water can be enough to either awaken childlike bliss or set our tears to flowing.
“It’s only talk”, some have been known to remark, but all talk can be said to be consequential even if not deeply useful. There is consequence to any sentences imparting relevant information, significance or meaning, and consequence to the wasting of words and despoiling of silence that is “small talk” and prattle. Words have both provoked and inspired revolutions, triggered by the careless use of expressions like “let them eat cake”, furthered by the distribution of impactful information printed behind closed curtains on clandestine flyers, emboldened by rousing song lyrics and artful slogans chanted from the lips of the dispossessed and determined. Words in advertisements not only stimulate merchandise sales to suit our tastes, they also work to mold those tastes, to create an illusion of endless new phantom needs, to influence opinion and – together with current television show dialogue – fashion the substance and shape of contemporary culture itself.
With this essay we are calling for each and every empowered member of our loose knit Anima and herbal community to each ourselves edit (not censor!) what we present to the world, personally reexamining, reappraising and redefining our language so as to best abet our values, intentions and aims. We need to look between the lines of our communications for every imparted meaning, overt or subtle; to measure listener, student and reader response, while being careful not to sacrifice personality or purpose for the sake of acceptance, popularity or consensus; and to keenly assay consequence and result, without neglecting, surrendering or dishonoring our essential principles. To increase the chances that we are clearly imparting what is most important to clients and students, minimizing projection and confusion, avoiding unnecessary hot buttons and trigger words, encouraging rather than discouraging response, it’s important that we consciously craft our sentences to best effect.
This way, we make sure that we say what we mean… the best first step on the way to doing what we say.
(Post and forward freely)