The Words We Use

By Reuben Mwaikinda ~ Independent Legal Consultant on 28 Apr 2020Personal Journey


What is in a Word?


I have had a fascination with words for as long as I can remember. The fascination and curiosity most likely stems from having to learn several foreign languages from a very early age due to living and growing up in different parts of the world.  It may also be attributed to the need and want of having to reacquaint myself with my mother tongue in adulthood.  It was initially noticeable to me when my 7th grade Spanish teacher, Señor Guerrero whose fantastic, fun teaching style insisted that we know not only the definitions and English translations of Spanish vocabulary, but also learn their synonyms, antonyms and the root or their historical origins. French and Spanish words are either masculine or feminine which adds a whole other dimension. This is when I realised that words are born, living, can have a gender, and also have power. Think of your favourite and least favourite words.  Visualise them when used by you or others. That feeling or reaction from those words illustrate the power and potential of just one word, to destroy or build, discourage or encourage,  stifle or innovate. 


In a captivating exchange between comedian Dave Chapelle (who often uses explicit and profane language on stage) and Dr. Maya Angelou, she advises:- 


"Words are things. You must be careful, ....Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you."

Word With Self 

We use words to talk however we need words to think. When we wake in the morning whether we take an extra few minutes in bed, in the shower, or in front of the mirror, we use words to talk to ourselves (in our minds or out loud).  They can motivate or deflate us and will greatly impact the course of our day, hence the adage that thoughts become words, words become action and our repeated actions become habit/character.


Word With Others 

Whether it be a professional, personal, recreational  or social social setting, words used consciously or subconsciously greatly contribute to intended or unintended outcomes and fortunately, these words are within our control. The importance of using the right words in the legal profession is obvious as they are tools of the trade. This also extends to all professions and industries depending on the nature of interactions with fellow human beings, institutions and organizations. Whether applying for a job, seeking funding, pitching to a client or advertising our business, wanting to send out a message, our audience is attentive to key terminology used. The right word(s) used could make the difference between success and disappointment as are words we use to react and respond to different situations.


In recreational, artistic or social settings, timeless songs that transcend generations tend to have the finest lyrical content. The enjoyable books that we read, the great movies that we watch usually contain memorable quotes.  


As a parent, I am aware that the tone of voice and type of words we use with and regularly speak to our children becomes their inner voice.  My late father was a man of a few words, but they mattered. His written and verbal communication was clear, concise and to the point.  His most poignant words remain with me until today, though it has been over five years since he passed. In the days of post cards, letters and when physical Easter, Christmas, birthday cards were the norm, there were three words that he consistently used in all his correspondences which would always end with "Your Loving Father". Three powerful words that continue resonate positively although they were always in written form yet never expressed verbally. 


Breaking the "Curse" 

In the film A Thousand Words, Eddie Murphy's character is an unscrupulous agent afflicted by a curse that will kill him if he speaks over 1000 words, the only way for him to break the enchantment is by rectifying his past mistakes. Were we to find ourselves in that situation, which words would we use? Sometimes silence is best, however that is another topic altogether.


In these challenging times of social isolation, being physically away from colleagues, clients, business partners, friends or loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic, let us use the unlimited yet limited words at our disposal with the right communication to rebuild broken relationships, inspire, uplift, empower and encourage ourselves and each other, for unlike spoken and written words that will last forever, this pandemic situation shall one day be over. 


The words we use consistently with ourselves, to others and about others come to life. Let us use our words wisely.


By Reuben Mwaikinda ~ Independent Legal Consultant