The Pen is Cuter than the Lolcat
I am a big believer in the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. And now, with the speed and scale that is available to us due to the internet, I could even say “the pen is mightier than the nuclear weapon”.
It then becomes really important that we use this power a lot more carefully. Every word or phrase we use needs to be carefully weighed against who the target audience is, what the current situation is, and how the words will impact the audience and the situation.
I bet when scientists started talking about “survival of the fittest”, they were not thinking about how this will lead to a new philosophy of life and how it will affect everything that happens in the world. But that is what happened. This phrase and the associated philosophy has created a far more violent and stressful world.
And “survival of the fittest” didn’t tell the whole story of evolution anyway. This article (https://getpocket.com/explore/item/survival-of-the-friendliest) talks about a different aspect of evolution, using a different phrase, “survival of the friendliest”. This is also is true about evolution and has been ignored. I would actually even replace the word “survival” and say “thriving of the friendliest”. Life isn’t just about survival, it is about thriving, being happy, content, at least when it comes to human beings.
“Global warming” is probably the other biggest poster boy for this phenomenon of bad phrasing leading to real problems. I guess the word originated from the greenhouse effect (another unfortunate term). Scientists were probably not thinking about this as a political thing at that time at all, but it eventually did become a political platform. And that unfortunate term made it possible for its detractors to make all kinds of jokes and spread misinformation, causing a huge setback to any efforts to deal with it.
“Climate change” is a little more accurate, but still, if you ask anyone involved in marketing, they will tell you it’s still far from being good enough. We really need a term that would appeal to the masses in terms of something they can easily verify and realize as being bad. I personally prefer just “pollution” or “wastage of precious resources” or even “make the world beautiful again”.
As another example, I would argue that a large part of why our culture has become highly toxic / violent / aggressive is due to the toxic / violent / aggressive phrases we use daily.
Here are some very commonly used phrases in English (and, since English is the language of power and money, these are being spread all over the world and even being translated into other languages):
- killer feature
- when push comes to shove
- take a stab / shot at it
- give a fuxx / shxx
- kill two birds with one stone
- get your ducks in a row
- keep your powder dry
- get away with murder
- bang for your buck
- bring out the big guns
- take no prisoners
- and so on.
It took me only a couple of minutes to come up with that list. There are a lot, lot more, and far more graphic ones, that are in common use. It’s no wonder that business, politics, media, and in some cases even day to day interactions with other people have become just metaphors for wars and violence.
As a first seemingly small yet very meaningful step towards a more friendly / peaceful / thriving world, may be we should try to use more friendly, politically savvy, or less violent phrases.
To start with, the phrase I started with, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is itself is a casualty of this phenomenon. Why “mightier” and “sword”? Why not:
- “the pen is grander than the Grand Canyon”
- “the pen is sweeter than candy”
- “the pen is cuter than the lolcat”
- and so on.
See, doesn’t that already make you feel better? Come on, I even managed to get lolcats in there! 🙂