Radio Leicester Thought for the Day

John Denney, 5 February 2002


Collins' new dictionary has just been published together with its predictions as to the best word newcomer for the year 2002. Their top contenders are "In Silico" which refers to computer programming, and "Pink Viagra", which I won't go into this early in the day.  They've been doing that since 1902, when the word they predicted was Teddy-Bear.  I guess they got that right.  They got "manic depression" right, too, in 1905.  But at various times they predicted other words that signally failed the test of time.  Who remembers "bovrilize" meaning to condense, or "groceteria" now superseded by "supermarket"? 


Words also change their meanings over time.  "Economist" used to mean someone who was thrifty, but now it means someone who claims to know all about wealth and its creation and distribution.  And today's "pundit" is someone who bores television viewers with his ten-a-penny, saloon-bar opinions about football, whereas it used to mean a wise and learned man.


Words, of course, are very important.  They can have unexpected force, provoking strong reactions in the hearer.  A Blairite utterance (oh yes, "Blairite" is a word that crept into the language in 2000) - anyway, the Prime Minister used the word "wreckers" in a speech to his supporters last weekend.  And the assembled brothers and sisters took great umbrage at what they took to be a slur against their good selves. 


Christians know the power of words.  The Bible describes the development of the universe as happening, era by era, day by day, at God's spoken commands.  "Let there be light" starts the chain of events, and on the sixth day "Let us make man in our likeness".  Words have power.  Indeed, the central figure of Christianity - Jesus Christ Himself - is called "The Word" in the Bible.


The Apostle James warned that words can be a dangerous thing.  Our tongues can run away with us and get us into trouble.  Have you ever said the wrong thing to someone?  Spoken to someone in such a way that you've hurt them, even if you didn't mean it?  Or passed on gossip and rumour and untrue stories about someone?  And then it's so hard to put things right.  Even if you apologise straight away, you're left feeling that the apology sounds thin, that they're thinking, "he really meant that".  And you feel guilty and ashamed.  That's why words can be dangerous: you can so easily end up digging a hole for yourself.  Bad words rebound on you.  But so do good ones.  So how about saying something nice to someone today?  Maybe niceness will rebound on you.


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