WORDS OF VIOLENCE: words or phrases we use regularly which denote violence

With all the conversations swirling these past weeks over guns, gun control, 2nd Amendment, and violence, I have found myself more aware than ever of the number of times we use words of violence in a casual way.    I don’t think it ever occurs to us that we are using such phrases in our conversations.

It has been almost amusing to hear commentators have to stop and apologize when they use such phrases unconsciously, only to have the person they are talking with grimace.  A few seconds of embarrassment and apology follow.

I’m thinking of such phrases as “He shot himself in the foot with that comment.”   I literally heard a pundit say that about someone’s comment about gun control.   He was  not phased by his blunder, but the person interviewing him was clearly unnerved.

How many times have we said casually, “My back is killing me,” or, “I could have died when he showed up.”  Under normal circumstances, these would mean nothing, unless you are talking with someone who has just experienced a tragic death in her family.   The words carry a new heaviness under those conditions.

I think of the times I have said, “I took a shot in the dark with that proposal, hoping I wouldn’t get shot down.”   Just think what that sentence would mean to someone who may have barely survived the Aurora shootings, where the gun shots were literally fired in a darkened theater.

And it’s not all about guns, either.   To say that a colleague was “hung out to dry” or “thrown under the bus” is to conjure up visualizations of violence.    “He dug his own grave with that remark” may be so common as to not matter to most people, but if it brings up thoughts of an acquaintance that was kidnapped and made to dig his own grave before being murdered, it takes on a different meaning.  I heard a conversation on TV about gun violence and one of the women who was defending restrictions on gun purchases said,  “It just makes me recoil when I think about the intent of the person buying that assault weapon.”   It was a funny moment for those of us who were spectators, but it was another example of how violent terms have invaded our speech.

Most intelligent people would say that these kinds of speech patterns are just hyperbole, obvious and intentional exaggeration.    And they would be right under most circumstances.

But at this particular moment, when the nation is still reeling from the tragedy in Newtown, people are more sensitive to such language.   It is not dissimilar to the way in which racial epithets used to be common in American English usage.   We didn’t think twice about its true meaning until we came face to face with the the Civil Rights era.  Suddenly it was clear to us that it was inappropriate to use  such language, and that it was hurtful to people of color.

The same is true today.    It is more than just a linguistic burp moment; it is a new era (hopefully) when the average person on the street begins to participate in diminishing the manifestations of violence that are so prevalent in our society.   It takes more than federal or state legislation to change our society; it also takes individual efforts to become conscious of the way in which we unknowingly promote violence, even in our speech.


Illustration Credit:  Gotta Laff

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