Writing Life: The Harmful Effect of Words


© 2008, 2013  by Raymond Alexander Kukkee

another story on paper...

Harmful words waiting to be written?

"The power of language is highly variable, even unpredictable "

In the course of your writing career, have you ever used the wrong word by mistake, a sharp criticism —a foul invective,  the 'f'-word, poorly expressed, unnecessarily  uncivilized language,  and perhaps too late concluded a far better, less damaging choice of words could have been made? Welcome to the harmful effect of words.

As writers, our use of words is fraught with traps and treasures. Words from the heart, off the tip of the tongue, or withdrawn from deep in the mind can do many things, both positive and negative, at times unexpectedly.

From any perspective, words used effectively can delight, make the human spirit soar to ultimate happiness, joyand enlightenment, or reduce an already barren, downtrodden human being to extreme depths of despair and helplessness and ultimately, destruction. Words may also initiate,cultivate  and exacerbate the darkest, intractable hate.

 Harmful effect of words: the unpredictable

The instantaneous power of language is highly variable, even unpredictable.  Words by themselves may be completely innocent, innocuous, or in the other extreme, wickedly pointed, savagely powerful and dangerous.  Unknown to us, the derivative effects of words may be even more so.  Caution is required. Why? Interpretation, although normally  'routine', can result in the unexpected.

The listener, the reader, the condition of the  recipient mind —may be unknown, undefined,  and unpredictable;  in that respect, words are virtually unlimited in interpretation.  We do not know what thought, feelings or actions words taken out of context may precipitate.   Eloquent, specific and careful, even gentle use of words —both written and spoken is clearly a worthy goal if the potentially harmful effect of words is to be avoided.

Writers may benefit greatly from thoughtful word usage, or equally, find themselves subject to severe criticism for using words that inadvertently result in pain. Even using gentle, ordinary words without malicious intent may, in interpretation, appear to describe traits, savage the character of individuals, alienate, or colour an individual group with an indelible stain.  Inadvertent or careless reference to  ageism, gender,  race, or a miscellaneous classes of people in an  indiscriminate manner can be damaging,  hurtful —and unnecessarily so.

Used with offensive context,  indeterminate interpretation of simple truth as criticism, the wrong words can wreak havoc unintentionally, invoking stress,  negativity, and at times, unwanted backlash, warranted or not. The wrong words can dethrone kings and destroy careers. At times it may be difficult to avoid foul language and four-letter words, achieve a reasonable balance in wordsmithing without succumbing to the stupidity of excessive "political correctness gone mad,  especially where topics and issues invoke outrage, bloodlust and passion. As writers, thinking thrice before writing once can certainly —at least at times, be extremely helpful in avoiding the potentially explosive and harmful effect of words.

We try, but may not always succeed. Should we feel bad about it if we fail upon occasion?  No. Yes. Maybe.  Perhaps all we can ask of ourselves as we relay a blistering message important to our hearts and the well-being of humanity  is to be aware, and ultimately do our best in applying pen to paper.  Let's have coffee and think about it.

Is that Incoming I hear?


About Raymond Alexander Kukkee

A published author and freelance writing professional, Raymond lives and writes in Northwestern Ontario.
This entry was posted in Business, Ethics, Life, Publishing, Reflections, The Human Mind, Writing Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Writing Life: The Harmful Effect of Words

  1. Written words really can be taken in a different way than they were intended – I just experienced that last night! When I think about it, I probably experience it more than I realize but don’t overthink it given it’s regular occurrence… great food for the mind here, Raymond!

    • Hi Christyb, yes, this happens far more often than we realize, yet in most instances we’re simply not aware. When it does cause a serious problem, though–it gets your attention.
      Smile if you’ve avoided using harmful words today “:) Thanks for commenting, and write on, Christyb “:)

  2. because of my natural propensity for creative expression–and–my multilingual auto-education, i am often misunderstood, rarely blamed and chuckling all the way..
    see, multilingual may suggest that i was born with several tongues, auto-education may elicit that i went to school in a car or can fix any mechanical problem..ok, these are innocent words, yes, i know the many paths to critical assertion in the intent and impact of the written word.
    how about the spoken word?.that’s why i have been given an expressive face, people check it to see if i mean what they think i said..plus i add hand or body language to make sure..difficult with the phone word.
    don’t care if (i) am understood–just care about the words..

    • Hi Nadine! Words are wonderful…This comment incurred much laughter, ‘auto-education’ — it occurs to me that indeed, your having been so unusually and incredibly gifted with all aspects of the beautiful word, you are indeed easily misunderstood. Have you ever experienced repercussions? Should one ever admit mea culpa? haha! The written word is always fascinating with much potential, and the vocal daunting. Expressive faces combined with hand and body language make interpretation potentially more exciting and challenging “:) I say write on, Nadine,- it being totally redundant to tell you to write well ….”:)) ~R

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