Use Your Words

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Those of you who have elementary aged kids probably have a tune from a certain PBS cartoon playing in your head now. You’re welcome—and I don’t mean that in a snarky sense. (At least, not only in that sense).

I’ve been thinking much about the meaning of words, how many of our words are specific to our professions, and even how words have changed through the years. Plus, I’m a fan of Hannah Harris’s section on WORLD Watch: “What in the word?”

Any academic course worth its salt reinforces the importance of defining your terms. Key events and figures in History; processes and classification systems in Biology; literary devices and parts of speech in English: In order for anything to be meaningful we have to know what it means.

Lately, I have become acutely aware of the need to define terms and use words wisely. Some poignant observations made by my colleagues at WORLD News Group include a variety of words have been co-opted, repurposed, even overused for ideological purposes. Words used within ideological systems are chosen with intention to promote specific worldviews and achieve specific outcomes. Proponents of certain agendas even promote the use of terms in order to make them more common therefore accepted into everyday speech.

At God’s WORLD News, for example, we have a high view of the word “adoption,” restricting its usage to relationships between God and His image-bearers (humans) or between image-bearers—not for relationships between humans and animals. We sense the weightiness of the word when we read Galatians 4:5-6. An adopted child of God has become “an heir” with “the full rights of sons.” Adoption is “an act of God’s free grace whereby we are received into the number and have the right to all the privileges of the sons of God.” Though animals may be given as part of inheritance, they do not have the legal status to receive one. To secure “heir” status on our behalf, the Son of God sacrificed himself, separating from and receiving the wrath of His Father! Human adoption, too, requires adoptive parents to go to great lengths to pursue and place a child into a privileged status within a family. It is no casual term. Therefore, we talk about human/creature relationships differently: with a nuance of stewardship, ownership, or dominion.

The word “abortion” provides another clear example of words packed with meaning, revealing worldview. President Biden has resisted using the word during his presidency, and when you look at its definition, it seems clear why: Abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy. It artificially terminates the natural process to which the logical and expected end is the birth of a unique human being. Yet, abortion advocates wish to see our president and others use the term deliberately, unapologetically, and frequently out of their desire to see it normalized.

Similarly, there are those within Islam who wish to see “Qur’an” and other words from within their religious culture absorbed and assimilated into the English language. With that goal in mind, they willingly remove the apostrophe to make the transliterated word for their religious text (which they place above Christian scripture in its authority) readily palatable to the English speaker/reader. Seemingly insignificant, not worthy of uproar? … definitely fodder for careful thought.

 

Words have power. They influence our thinking, feeling, and doing. There’s a solid and God-honoring reason we practice defining our terms, showing that we believe His world has meaning and what we have to say about it is meaningful. It is not overly simplistic nor a fool’s errand to define words, within their context, with a sense of desired outcomes. And then to “use our words” just as intentionally.

What words have you unconsciously absorbed into your vocabulary? Where do you hear your children using words inexactly or which reflect certain ideologies or worldviews? How can you incorporate a carefulness of speech, “seasoned with salt,” which promotes the agenda of our King and His kingdom coming?

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed

News Coach

Equipping for Cultural Engagement

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