I’m sitting in a Waiting Room at hospital. I’ve just witnessed a rather awkward encounter between a nurse and someone wandering through the corridor. “You’ve got beautiful hair”, “thanks, I actually lost my hair, I’m undergoing chemo”. “Umm oh well that’s fantastic”. I share a glance with the woman, who pulls a face as if to say ‘that was awkward’. It was a moment of connection that made me feel human, and calm.
I’m staring at a toilet door. It says ‘patient toilet’ on the front. I’m laughing inside. I have to get a photo.
It is a reminder of how absurd the English language is. Some people would appreciate a patient toilet. Especially in a place like this. A caring toilet with all the time in the world. That’s what they need. There is nothing worse than an impatient toilet. One that shouts at us like a drill sergeant, ‘come on! Hurry up! Get on with it!’
OK. Obviously this isn’t what it means. It’s a toilet that hospital patients can use.
Lost in Translation
Language is fascinating. It’s easy to take it for granted. It was only when I was about 19 or 20 that I really appreciated the intricacies and difficulties language poses. I studied politics and international relations at university. It’s a field peppered with the nuanced difficulties of language.
Cross culture, cross language, agreements and treaties. Diplomacy is dependent on good use of language. And the inappropriate use of a seemingly innocuous word in one language could be potentially catastrophic in translation.
On a personal level, I’ve noticed the challenge of language in my own coaching work. When working with clients for whom English is not their first language, I’m learning to listen to the words and phrases I use without thinking. It’s so easy to lose clarity by failing to take into account the recipient of my words. And this represents a common problem in communication – we speak from our own perspective, rather than seeking to be understood from the other person’s perspective.
Great communicators don’t just speak well. They understand who they are speaking TO. They know how to speak in order to be understood. And that cannot be done if they don’t first understand those people. What matters to them, what are their values, what are their touch points. This is one of the things that is missing in so much dialogue right now.
Highly Sensitive Language
Language is limited. You’ve probably read articles about words in other languages for emotions, experiences, and thought-processes, that you don’t have in your own native tongue. I love this kind of thing. And I think it represents something introverts, creative people, highly sensitive types, experience a lot.
We can’t find the words to describe what’s going on within.
Humans don’t have the arsenal of words to describe all the things that bubble inside. This is why poetry, prose, and for me especially, music is so important.
Music is not simply entertainment or something to consume. But it’s a piece in the jigsaw of the inexplicable mystery of existence. It comes in fleeting moments where we feel at one with another’s description or way of painting the experience of life.
We experience the connection to another person’s attempt to make manifest the mystery of existence. And in so doing, experience our own deep mystery.
Another weird aspect of language is the idea of ‘bad words’. We often talk about bad language when referring to certain words. Dirty words. Swear words. Offensive language. This has long fascinated me. Words are just sounds that carry meaning to those who are able to identify them based on their own experience.
But are some words truly offensive?
By that I mean, are there some sounds that grate on you personally?
There are some words which aesthetically offend us. They are sensory claws down our ear drums. For me, the word ‘batch’ is an offensive word – I hate how it sounds. If someone says they made a fresh batch of cookies, that doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t want those cookies.
I know many people who feel the same with ‘moist’ and ‘puke’.
But there are disagreements between scientists about whether we dislike words because of their sound, or because of the associations they conjure in the mind. Some point out the instinctive reactions we have to music. There are sounds that are simply jarring to us. Certain smells, tastes, and feelings are also unwelcome sensory stimulants. They just grate. And this is often even more exaggerated for highly sensitive people.
In this episode I explore the nuances of language, and have some fun thinking about this stuff.
I also mention a new series that is launching in next week’s episode…Serenity in the Trenches: Find Self-Acceptance and True Belonging When Things Around You Feel Like They are Falling Apart
Over to You
What words can you not stand? I’ve told you mine, now tell me yours in the comments below!
Listen to The Gentle Rebel (Extended Play) Private Podcast:
Serenity in the Trenches (an introduction)
If you like this topic and want to hear more of my (more personal) thoughts and reflections, you can subscribe to the bonus podcast right now, through Patreon