Words Not To Be Used

“Ineffable”. Don’t use that word. It’s too big, too obscure.

If you hear someone say that word without knowing its definition you might get a very different sense of it than you do by reading it. But I was told recently that it’s best to use words that everyone understands. “Quotidian,” for example, should not be used. Who ever says quotidian when you can simply say “every day” is just showing off. But then, I saw a bakery called Le Pein Quotidien – The Daily Bread.

You have to be careful when you use the word “myth” in church to refer to a scripture or doctrine. The word is defined: A traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact. But when Joseph Campbell used the word he was thinking of the universal human story, perhaps not based in “fact”, but truer than any collection of facts could ever be. With some religious people, you have to spend more time defending the word than it’s worth; just say “universal truth” and move on.

My daughter used the words “orthodox”, “realist” and “agnostic” in a class when discussing Quantum Mechanics. While the terms are commonly used by physicists to describe three points of view which represent the intermediate state between measurements, someone took exception. Two of those words are fraught with religious overtones. What are they doing in a physics class?

Why do we sing: Haste to bring him laud … ? What’s “laud“? Why don’t we simply sing “praise”?

When I played baseball in high school our coach used to say “Judas Priest” whenever he got exasperated. It sounded sort of cool, so I started using the phrase to express my exasperation. One day my older sister called me on it. “Do you know who ‘Judas’ Priest’ was?” she asked me. OK … so I couldn’t say that anymore. I used to think that George Carlin was the gold standard when it comes to words you should not use; but the idea that other kinds of words – not dirty ones, but big ones, or slightly obscure ones – should also be avoided was new to me.

I remember the first time I heard the word “ubiquitous”. I was so enamored of it that I ran home, looked it up and immediately added it to my vocabulary. It’s a word that is pronounced in the front of your mouth; not a lot of depth, but it’s everywhere. Why shouldn’t we use words that are slightly esoteric? And what about euphemisms or all the political catch phrases and sound bites that take complicated subjects and grind them down to the equivalent of pablum? Phrases like “Pro-Choice” or “Right to Life”- Aren’t we actually doing ourselves an injustice by reducing the emotional, spiritual, philosophical and political issues of our day to these over-simplified constructs?

Back to Quantum Mechanics for a moment. Schrodinger came up with this mind game / puzzle suggesting that, in the quantum world a cat in a box under certain circumstances could be both alive and dead at the same time. How can that be? That’s ineffably amazing!

There are words that some people can say but other people cannot say; I get that. There are words or phrases that start feuds in families and fights in congress – like “gun control” or “abortion” or “climate change”. Perhaps we shouldn’t say any of those.

There are words we use when we are searching for the right word, like “like”. Have you noticed that more people are beginning sentences – especially when they are explaining something – with an elongated Soooo … It can be, like, soooo frustrating listening to those folks. But because there are so many words and phrases we shouldn’t use, I can understand the need for some articulation that lets people know you are still with them, thinking, searching for just that perfect way of saying what you want to say in such a way so as not to offend anyone.

We won’t even get into “Vocal Fry”, which researchers say is on the rise. It is ubiquitous among educated, urban-oriented, upwardly-mobile women. In fact, in a recent report 2/3 of the women studied exhibited vocal fry. Some suggest that women are trying to sound more like men; but I don’t know if that’s a good thing to say.

Well … anyway … Merry Christmas. (Is it ok to say those words? Is it too early in the season? Should I wait for another week? I know it’s been said many times, many ways; but would it be better simply to say: Have a nice day?)

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.