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Changing our vocabulary

Much of the language and vocabulary we use today is rooted in what we have gathered from our parents, mainstream media, and classrooms. Many of us will use words and phrases that seem quite common without actually considering their origin, their actual meaning or what culture or religion they belong to.

Imagine having a very special shawl, maybe it was made by your grandmother, maybe it covered you at your christening. Whatever the history of it, it is very special and important to you.

Now imagine that someone takes that shawl and uses it to wipe up a mess on the floor. How do you feel?

Obviously you would be upset, you would be insulted, you would be angry that the shawl was being used for something it was not intended to be used for.

This kind of emotional upset can occur when we misuse words that represent someone's culture or religion. Or when we use words that are connected to something awful, to bring about laughter.

You may recognize this character from the sitcom Seinfeld, he is called the Soup Nazi. Historically the Nazis were followers of Hitler and were responsible for some very atrocious actions. By using the word Nazi to bring humour we are making light of something horrendous, something that deserves to be treated with enough respect that the word only be uttered in historical reference.


It does not mean what you think it means

The word guru seems to be quite prevalent today to indicate someone's expertise in something. It is used widely to indicate prowess in things from yoga to marketing.

But what is a guru?

In the Hindu and Buddhist religions guru refers to a spiritual guide or leader, someone that is held in very high esteem. This word is special and important to the people that follow this religion. By using it to represent something common like yoga or marketing we are not only misusing it (not following it's defined meaning) but we are also being insensitive to the people who use it as part of their beliefs.


There are mainstream words that are connected to religions, cultures and atrocities that should lose their power. We can do this by learning, understanding and making an effort to change. Let's build our vocabulary to include words of encouragement, kindness and understanding and continue to avoid the words that cause hurt.

Changing how we use words isn't caving to people who are being highly sensitive. It is acknowledging understanding of other cultures, religions and situations so that we are not being insensitive.


You can get the conversation started with kids about word origins and meanings with the unit study Where Do Words Come From. It is a good introduction to knowing how words come about and how meanings can change which can open the door to discussions about words we shouldn't use.

Download this unit study from the Quite a Character Classroom.


“Life isn't about just talking, it's about thinking too.”

Marie Symeou


Words we tell ourselves also have power and we want to make sure we are using that power for good. Check out my blog post on Self-Love to see how important what you do and say to yourself really is.

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