Language is one of the distinctive marks between man and the beasts. We have intelligence and conscience and independent thought, and most often express with words. James says, “My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation . . . if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man . . . For the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things . . . who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James, chapter 3).
The English dictionary has better than 300,000 words listed. They express every emotion of the heart and will of mankind. Often times there is but a small nuance between words and their meaning. In Europe the term, “Under the weather” means drunk. When we call little kids, “buggers”, it’s kind of a back handed compliment. In Ireland, the word is so obscene, no one would utter it and those who do are looked down on as being “dirty minded”.
Words are often confusing. After one of my speeches, a lady remarked, “That was a warm lesson”. One definition of “warm” means “not so hot”. One remarked that was a mellow speech. I looked up the word and one rendering is, “Almost rotten”. One lady said, “I loved your talk, it was just superfluous, just superfluous.” I said, “Thank you lady, I plan on publishing it posthumously.” She replied, “Well, the sooner the better”.
When an old timer was called on to lead in the closing prayer, he said, “Lord, the preacher has lit many a spark in our hearts tonight, help us to water them”. He got his metaphors mixed up. It was as harmless as another prayer leader who said, “Lord, bless our elders that have overlooked this congregation for 27 years”. Overlook and oversee have just a little different meaning. One thing for sure, he didn’t mean any harm. Just an honest mistake in the use of words.
My computer revealed the following story that I thought was quite humorous. A girl walked up to the information desk in her local hospital and said, “I need to see the upturn, please.” “I think you mean the ‘intern’, don’t you?”, asked the nurse on duty. “Yes,” said the girl, “I want to have a contamination.” “Don’t you mean ‘examination’,” the nurse questioned her again. “Well I need to go to the fraternity ward, anyway.” I’m sure you mean the maternity ward.” To which the girl replied, “Upturn, intern, contamination, examination, fraternity, and maternity . . . What’s the difference? All I know is I haven’t demonstrated in two months, and I think I’m stagnant.”
It’s good for a laugh but it does illustrate the point, that words have meanings and meanings carry concepts, and concepts are our thoughts relayed. Perhaps this is why James wrote, “Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay” (James 5:12). The Apostle Paul taught, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor; for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Anytime I went to mother to proclaim, “I’m sick”, her answer was certain and swift. “Open your mouth and stick out your tongue and let me see it”. I often wondered what the tongue would reveal about a sick stomach. The answer was forthcoming, “Go take two Carter’s Little Liver Pills; your liver needs cleaning out.” The prognosis was complete by just looking at my tongue.
Today, when it is estimated that a majority of school kids lie and cheat, mother would say, “Go get the soap, you need your mouth washed out and your tongue cleaned”. Jesus said, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thought, murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Much of society’s adoption of obscene terminology stems from the media. Sordid language abounds on the silver screen and T.V. shows are not far behind. What is really behind the coarsening of common language is that movie and T.V. characters curse without consequence (repercussions). In real life, children who swear are reprimanded and corrected. Yet in the entertainment media, swearing isn’t embarrassing, it is accepted and often seen as humorous.
“Darn”, “heck”, and “dadgumit” have long since left the scene. The real stuff is being repeated to the dulling of the ears, and the closing of the heart. Who was it that said, “For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned?” (Matthew 12:37). “Yes and no”, sounds pretty good to me.