As regular readers might guess, I love words. I enjoy the artistry of folks as varied as William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Mary Oliver who can magically string together words into sentences that touch the soul in profound ways.
I don’t speak any other languages except Pig Latin, but I have long admired learning about unique words and terms from other languages. On Easter Island, there is anga anga, which is “the act of thinking one is being gossiped about.” Been there, done that. (Figuratively, mind you — never been to the island itself for fear of them gossiping about me).
But maybe the most descriptive language is German — they seem to have a word for everything. And my very favorite is treppenwitz, which means “a brilliantly witty remark that comes to your mind after leaving a party.” Boy, have I ever had those! I’m sure a few of them would have brought the house down had I thought of it in time, and maybe actually prevented the anga anga I felt walking out the door.
For most of us, though, the biggest regret upon our serious reflection is not what we didn’t say, but what we did say and wish we hadn’t. Words matter. Once you say something harmful or hurtful to someone, you can’t retrieve and delete. “Sorry, that’s just the way I am” doesn’t cut it. Author Karon Waddell wrote: “When someone tells you that you have done something that has hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” The key is just not saying hurtful things. Churchill said “By swallowing evil words, no one has ever harmed his stomach.” Easier said than done, I know.
A local television station has been running PSAs on this very topic. They cite the Rotary “Four Way Test”:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
This is a test worth studying for.
We live in an increasingly polarized world. The vitriol we see daily on news and social media is both overwhelming and discouraging. The one thing we do control, however, are our own words. And perhaps if you and I start there, it might make others think twice before wounding.
So, I was at a party once, and someone rode by on a bike. A friend I was talking to said “Huh, small world. I use to live with that guy on that bike.”
After I walked away, the perfect treppenwitz hit me: “Boy, I bet that got crowded!”