We humans haven’t been communicating with words for very long – we’re not as practised at this as we are with body language – and it amuses me to think that our ancestors roaming the Savannah may actually have been more honest communicators, without words to hide behind and fool people with. Learning more about language sometimes just gives us ever more sophisticated ways of using words to obscure rather than reveal our true meaning. With words, we can tell naughty fibs.
I think it’s fun to explore the rich possibilities of language, and play around with it to find our own ways of communicating what we mean. Cliches and common phrases easily trip off the tongue, but if we choose we can get more creative and enjoy making up our own new ways of saying things. Stephen Fry once advocated the introduction of an annual ‘Fresh Phrase Week’ when nobody would be allowed to use tired, meaningless, over-used phrases. So, for example, you could talk about a ‘majority’ but not an ‘overwhelming majority’. You would be allowed to say ‘heroine’ but not ‘plucky heroine’.
I like to pick up new ways of saying things wherever I can, and children are a rich source, being even less practised at this skill than we are, and therefore more honest. I was working with a class of young children once, talking about feelings, and one little boy came up with ‘I feel unfaired against’. I have used variations on this theme ever since. ‘I feel unfriendlied against!’ once stopped my daughter in her tracks and resulted in heartfelt apologies.
So if you find yourself saying the same thing over and over again and your children don’t listen, your challenge for this week is to find some new ways of saying things. Say something in a way you’ve never said it before, and surprise them into paying attention!
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