When Good Words Turn Bad

While listening to a friend talk the other day about a moment of personal discovery, I had a realization . . . there are many words I use I’d always thought of as “good” words, but in certain circumstances, even a good word can turn “bad.”

Take “wish” for example – a word full of positive energy and hopefulness. “Make a wish, honey,” we say. But just as often when I say the words “I wish,” they are followed by negatives. “I wish she’d stop that. I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish this wasn’t so stupid.”

And what about this one, “I am.” Such a powerful statement on its own, but just as often, it leads off sentences like, “I am not very good at that. I’m too slow. I am such an idiot.”

Then there are words like “never” or “always,” which for all the times they can be used in the positive, can just as often be used in the negative.

As a writer, two of my favorite words when paired together are “What if?” That question has spawned many a great story. But I sometimes catch myself slipping toward doubt when I use these words. “What if it doesn’t work? What if she doesn’t like it? What if I’m wrong?”

Then again, I’m just as likely to use a negative phrase in a positive way. Take the phrase “So what”? Makes you bristle just to hear it, right?  But it can also be motivating.

“I don’t want to submit this story. It might get rejected.”

“So what. Are you any worse off if it does?”

“I don’t want to call her, she might say no.”

“So what? Then at least you’ll know.”

Language has power and there is no such thing as a good word or a bad word, there is only how we use them and how we pair them. This last election taught us that. So be careful how you talk to or about others, but be careful how you talk to yourself as well.

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