Commentary: Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words
Pretty often I find myself without words. They have become almost meaningless lately. I have used the word “unbelievable” thousands of times just in the past few weeks to describe events both on the national stage and in Orange County.
If we want to talk about how many words there are in English — there are three key numbers to remember: more than a million total words, about 170,000 words in current use, and 20,000 to 30,000 used by each individual person.
And we are running out.
When someone is extremely ill, how many of you have trouble finding the words to say or write to them? And worse, when someone dies, do you know what to say, or do you look at that sympathy card and know that just signing your name is not enough and that you have to say something? I have stared at that card for a long time trying to come up with the right words and being unhappy with what I end up writing.
“Sorry for your loss” just really does not say enough or anything really. Nor does “please accept my condolences” or our “thoughts are with you,” “with deepest sympathies,” or “thinking of you,” as heartfelt as you mean them.
No matter how awful you feel for the person, these words, and I think at this point we can call them clichés, simply do not cover it.
Michelle Steel, the newly sworn-in congresswoman representing California’s 48th district, expresses dismay over the events on Jan. 6 and remains optimistic about the promise of democracy.
Forget words regarding tragedies. Even words that describe the beautiful moments in your life rarely express what you sincerely felt. Weddings, anniversaries, Christmases, Thanksgivings that you loved, or even just describing your impressions of the beauty of Yosemite, the Alps at sunset, or your morning cruise down the Danube are just hard to write about and equally difficult to express in conversation.
Lately when observing the events of the past months, words fail. There are no words that could possibly explain your feelings surrounding people crawling up the West Wing of the United States Capitol, dragging cops down the stairs, kicking and hitting them with the United States flag as they lay on the ground.
Or how can we talk with meaningful words about people parading around dressed in strange outfits, yelling for the Speaker’s death and the hanging of the Vice President of the United States?
What words can possibly describe people who would beat a cop to death with a fire extinguisher or create a crude guillotine to represent what should be done to the Vice President or people who would desecrate our Capitol with body waste and then scream it’s “the people’s House”?
What words in the English language could possibly describe what happened on Jan. 6? “Vile,” “disgusting,” and “sickening” are words that seem meaningless in the face of what actually happened.
What actual words can you possibly conjure to describe cops wearing MAGA hats backward to take selfies with the mob and removing barriers to ease the way for the madding crowd‘s rush down those halls?
What words can you find to detail what might be the end of peace, the end of reason, the end of unity, the end of truth, the end of a democracy, and the end of America?
We need new words.
The writer is a Newport Beach resident who taught at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for 40 years.
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