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FML: The Problem With Careless Language


Just a phrase? I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing.

Let me stop you before you ask the inevitable.

“Aren’t you that guy who was fired for writing that headline? Who are you to talk to me about careless language?”

The answer is yes. And, I come to you now as just a concerned friend who knows first-hand exactly how powerful words can be.

I’m not qualified to give anyone advice on any subject, except if the subject is being misinterpreted. I know full well how devastatingly important words can be.  Words are my passion. Words were my livelihood. I was an editor and writer for several years. I had a few columns, articles and stories published. My first novel was published in 2009. In February, I was fired for writing a headline that some people thought was racist.

I understand better than most the aching agony of having one’s words misconstrued. I am altogether familiar with the unique suffering that accompanies misinterpretation. My life was completely shattered and then re-shattered by the awful twisting of one phrase.

One common cliché. Four words. Fifteen letters.

I know all too painfully the overwhelming power of words. Being misinterpreted so drastically was, for me, like living with that muted non-voice we have in dreams. You can’t speak or scream. The mouth opens, nothing happens. I felt like I couldn’t rasp out a word of self-defense or explanation and no one was listening anyway.  It was an awful, awful feeling.

Please, heed my words to you.

The devastation of being slaughtered in the national media has passed and I am quite happy at my new job – and with my new life. But I will never forget the excruciating details of being public enemy No. 1 for a few days. I will never forget the evil words with which people assailed me. I will never forget the kind words with which people consoled me. I will never forget the silent words exchanged with a tender God.

I have thought often about words –my words, specifically - since then. What do your words say about you? How do your words, written or spoken, portray you?

Please don’t put yourself in a position where your words can betray you. I am not referring to perceived racism or political correctness. I am referring to the common language we pour out in the context of our daily lives, in the comfort of our various sanctuaries. I am referring to the deluge of verbiage we proclaim casually to our friends, our co-workers, our families, ourselves, our God.

Most precisely, I am referencing those self-condemning and self-destroying statements we actualize by breathing them to life.

“I’m so sick.”

“This sucks.” 

“There’s no way.”

“I swear you’re gonna get hurt.”

“Damn you.” 

All of these phrases are literal declarations of destruction and negativity.  There are thousands of others like them we use every day.  They are not as innocent as they appear.

The Bible teaches that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). And “he who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).  There are hundreds of references in the Bible to the incredible power of our speech.

We are told plainly in Scripture that we hold a very specific power over our circumstances. We have the authority to energize or extinguish goodness in our lives by our choice of words. We inflict so much damage on ourselves without knowing it. Life is tough enough before we start demanding our own woe.

A more accurate representation of the above phrases might be:

I prohibit all health from being present in my body.

I emphatically declare there is no goodness here.

I am disavowing all hope and opportunity in this situation.

I solemnly vow that you will be injured. I forbid you to not be injured.

God, please separate him or her from Your presence for all eternity.

The powers that be, the spiritual forces of this world act on our words. They have to. The power of life or the power of death is in each word we say.

What if we always conscientiously spoke life instead of haphazardly speaking death? What if we made a deliberate effort to eliminate negative language? I have started such a reform process in my life. I am astounded by the simple ways I used to unconsciously denigrate myself and others in speech.

People of all faiths and non-faith would agree, at a minimum, that the power of attitude affects one’s life. One need not be a believer to see the differences between positive and negative people manifested in their words.

And then there is my personal nemesis:

FML.  “F*ck my life.”

I see it often on Twitter, in the blogosphere. I hear it often. Those who say it frequently trend younger but it is by no means exclusive to youth. It is supposed to be a humorous, whimsical way to express one’s misfortune or maladies.

I spoke to my 17-year-old sister about it. I said that someone using that phrase is literally pronouncing devastation on their life. We talked about how all are created in God’s image and likeness and how all life is sacred, not something to be profaned with casual desecration. For people who are in tremendous physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or personal turmoil hearing “Waiting in this line forever…FML” is nothing less than an insult.

My sister listened patiently as I explained why I was so opposed to this seemingly innocuous expression. She thought for a while and then asked me if it was possible I cared too much about this. I asked her if it was possible that she didn’t care enough about this.

It’s just a phrase, she said.

Just a phrase? I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing.

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