What’s In A Word…

What’s in a word? Sometimes too much and yet not enough.

A friend and I, who had not seen each other in a long while, were on our way to dinner when I ran into an erstwhile colleague. As we exchanged greetings, I introduced them to each other as such, friend and erstwhile colleague. When we parted ways, my friend asks why I was so specific in my introductions. As a response I asked her the names of my children, their ages and my birthday. Basically things most of my casual friends would know, but not necessarily a colleague or an acquaintance, especially a former one. The colleague would not have known such information about me when we worked together; he and I were never friends. I’m not even speaking on good friends or best friends here, just friends. You know the people who have not risen to such importance in your life that you would invite them to join in on your vacation, but you would be happy to have them over for a back yard barbecue. I have colleagues I consider friends and would them invite to barbecue. There are other colleagues that I will hang out with socially for the occasional happy hour after work get together, but would not invite to my house. Then there are the ones, like the one above, where my only interactions with them are on the job.

We have become this society so afraid of hurting another’s feelings, that we oftentimes will give elevated credence to people to avoid potentially embarrassing or insulting them. The advent of Facebook has truly downplayed the definition of a friend. It is even sneaky in that you can set certain people to be an acquaintance without them knowing it. Yes, technically it is so you can post things to your status that your only friends can see, but they themselves would never know that you only consider them an acquaintance, not a friend. We  differentiate friend from good friend and best friend. One really has to earn their stripes for those titles, but dumping everyone one else into this generic friend folder does not work for me. Just because you are not a complete stranger to me does not automatically make you a friend, let alone my friend.

So what’s the big deal? How much does it really hurt anything to call someone a friend who is not? What’s the harm? For many – there is no big deal. It will not hurt a thing. When someone I consider a friend introduces another to me as a friend, I immediately presume that this new person is at the very least of some minor importance to the one doing the introductions. I may be more open to that person, give a certain level of respect to them based on that information. After all, based on the mutual person between us, a friend of yours is a potential friend of mine. However, if a friend introduces someone to me as a co-worker or colleague I am immediately friendly, but guarded. Until indicated otherwise, s/he is not necessarily a person to start sharing embarrassing remember the time? stories with. For me to casually introduce him as a friend a) elevates him to a status he has not earned in my life and b) undermines the importance of those in my life I truly consider friends. And to me that is harmful.

In the midst of a conversation regarding people who carelessly or blatantly misspell a person’s name someone exclaimed to me “Oh, don’t you just hate that?” Without really thinking about it I said that I did not hate it. So yes, I with the unique, some would say weirdly, spelled moniker was looked at with obvious surprise. And be honest, we are all guilty of casually throwing out the hate and love words for really trivial things from time to time. I explained there is a reason people complain that words like love and hate and friend has lost the power of their meaning. Collectively they have become so over used for such meaningless things as to be near meaningless themselves. Hate is all-consuming. Hate drives your day-to-day existence, becomes your most prevalent thoughts in all things. You channel so much of your energy into that which you hate, nearly all else takes a backseat to it. The barista at Starbucks who wrote Raven on my cup when I clearly spelled out R-A-I-V-E-N-N-E was worthy of my pissed-off tongue lashing when I saw it. Once I said what I had to say, I walked out the door not giving it or him a second thought. Because annoying as it was — why bother having me spell it if he was going to do whatever he wanted any way?– it was hardly worthy of my expending such energy required as to hate him. I’ll save that for the racists, sexists etc. out there who deign to wreak havoc on people’s lives for no other reason than their own stupidity and yes hatred. See? There is an enormous difference between “Oh, don’t you just hate fat people? And “Oh, don’t you just hate when people misspell your name?


“I love crossword puzzles.”
“I love those shoes.”
“I love sports.”
“I love my best friend.”
“I love my spouse/significant other.”
“I love *insert deity of choice here*.”

Yeah, I am not even going go any further on the far too many ways in which we abuse the word love. That one word encompasses so much, to make it feel so belittled sometimes.  After all, how I feel about Doughnut Plant’s coconut creme filled square doughnuts, while pure, deep  and true, is hardly comparable to that of how I felt about my late-husband. Yet,  many others would use the word love to convey both feelings – that’s how little credence  we’re now giving to the word.  Other languages, especially Asian languages get it right in having specific words/phrases for different types of love to solve the this.  I think the English language fails us greatly here to have one such word encompass so many things. And as a poet it is a major frustration on just how limited it is to rhyme!

It is true – any word we use only has the power we give it and conversely the power we take away by the over use of it. Certain curse words/phrases hold their power because we are told we not supposed to use them. The power of those words has carried on through the centuries at least until recent modern times. They are used so cavalierly these days, the shock value of them is slowly wearing off. Hopefully not in our lifetime, but soon enough, the washing of a child’s mouth out with soap for such an offense will be a dying antiquated notion.

There is a reason we have all these different terms for people and things in our lives. The people we have as friends, share our love with, even give our hate to should never roll off trivially from our lips, yet they do because the words themselves, that should be held with reverence and spoken with care, are becoming trivial. We should learn to use at least those three words friend, love and hate,  for their specialness as intended and use them properly.


Come see what other slices of life are happening this week:

Slice of Life - Two Writing Teachers





Slice of Life Writing Challenge : Two Writing Teachers

8 thoughts on “What’s In A Word…

  1. You have passionately and explicitly articulated something I have felt about “friend” for a long time. And I agree that Facebook, and the internet in general, has muddied the concept even more. I have “FB friends”, “work friends”, “friend friends”- somehow that becomes the distinction, rather than finding that specific and accurate noun or descriptor that defines the relationship more precisely/clearly/poetically.

  2. So many words get overused that their meaning, or in some cases shock value, gets watered down. Showing my age here, but I remember when certain words were never heard on television. Oh my, how that has changed. Words set us apart from other species. Words have power, but who gives them that power?

    • We give and take away their power. Arjeha, you are also likely familiar with George Carlin’s classic routine on seven dirty words you can’t use on TV. If not Google it. A lot of the then banned words are now used without second thought. Thanks!

  3. And when has a doughnut ever left you angry, upset, or in need of an aspirin? Hmmph. I thought not. That, my friend, is love.


    • Granted, never from any Doughnut Plant, but there have been a few donuts in my life from various places that have done one or more, or all of the above, plus a lovely dose or two of Pepto-Bismol to boot. That, my friend, is minor food poisoning.
      Love ya 😉

  4. Not only Facebook, etc, but also business indulges in linguistic inflation. When is the last time you saw a real estate ad for a “house” rather than a “home”?

    • I understand this as a selling point. Buying a house is the purchase of the construct – granted a specific type of construct, but just the shell nonetheless. Buying a home how you will live your life in that construct. I think of it less as linguistic inflation and more linguistic conflation. When purchased it will be someone’s home. I also see it used in the selling of condos, as condos have much of the same ownership status as one who buys a house. Interestingly, many apartment dwellers often use linguistic inflation when saying things such as “Come by my house”.

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