What is it about the word “moist” that makes some people squirm?
A recent post from our Saskatoon Public Library introduced me to a new word: logomisia. Derived from the Greek words for “word” and “hate,” it describes a person’s aversion to a word because it feels wrong (I’m looking at you, “impactful”) or simply because it sounds icky – think “pus” or “snot.” Eww…
Words are more than their dictionary definitions. They carry colour, weight and emotion and even speak to people’s values. Consider: oil sands versus tar sands. Both describe the same thing, but which word would be used by industry? Which by an activist group?
Other words elicit fear, uncertainty or even dread. Words such as toxin, chemical and radiation – even acronyms such as GMO – are meaningless without context. Everything is toxic in a high enough dose, we’re all made of chemicals, we’re all radioactive and GMO is (usually) a not-very-accurate term for a plant breeding technique. Yet all these words can make people so profoundly uneasy they will avoid all products and technologies associated with them.
Savvy – and sometimes unscrupulous – marketers have long learned how to make a dollar from weighted words, for examples offering food labels that promise the absence of offending ingredients such as “additives,” “preservatives,” and of course, GMOs.
The flip side of logomisia (logophilia?) are words that make you feel good. Don’t you get a warm fuzzy feeling when you sip that pure, natural, organic, artisanal craft beer made from heirloom barley and hops? Admit it – you feel good (and maybe a little smug and virtuous) because you drive a “green” hybrid or electric car.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with words that elicit emotion. Without them, there would be no great poetry or song, no great oratory ringing down the ages with power and inspiration.
But read carefully. Who is using the words? What might their agenda be? Which words are they using and how do you think they want you to feel?
If you’re a writer, ask yourself these same questions. As a wielder of words, you have great power, and with great power, comes great responsibility. Hey, that’s pretty good. Oh, wait…
Michael Robin is Content Strategist for Creative Fire.