Monday, December 7, 2009

Word Power, Jennifer Kerr


Words are the most direct way in which people communicate, and as such they have a tremendous amount of power. They can be used directly and indirectly to convey almost any thought, idea or emotion. Much can be learned about a person just from their choice of words. Words can be used as weapons, masks and tools of manipulation. They are powerful, which is why they should be used carefully.


Rosalie Maggio wrote an essay entitled “Bias-free Language: Some Guidelines” in which she makes plain her opinion that using biased language can be damaging to people by demeaning or dehumanising certain groups. “Bias-free language is logical, accurate, and realistic. Biased language is not,” she wrote. This is valid point; when someone uses sexist or racist language, they not only oppress and exploit a group of people, but they often fail completely at getting their point across. It is important that a writer think very carefully about his or her word choice, to make sure that they are not using habitual terms that don’t fully describe their intent.


While it is true that writers need to be careful to avoid disclusive or biased language in their writing, it is possible to take ‘political correctness’ too far. Michiko Kakutani argues in her essay “The Word Police,” that bias-free language doesn’t solve the problems of bias in the first place, and that being too careful about making language completely bias-free can lead to absurdities. She warns against taking political correctness too far.


Words are powerful, and they must be used carefully; however, if they are used too carefully, they lose much of their power. As Loren Wozny points out in her “Word Power” post, a balance must be found when using unbiased language.

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