Mandela on Words

Remember how powerful your words are.

It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”

– Nelson Mandela

I suppose I’m just jumping on the bandwagon here, quoting Mandela now that he’s dead. I wasn’t planning on it. But then I read this post via Freshly Pressed, and the quote at the end stuck with me. I realized I wanted to share it, because the sentiment is so, so important to writers, to people who wrestle with words daily. It is so, so important to activists — lest we get caught in the trap of thinking that talking about things isn’t important enough.

Which, of course, is something I hear very often. My blogging isn’t good enough if I’m not marching and protesting every day. (Excuse me while I roll my eyes right out of my head.)

Words are important. Words make a very real difference in life, and in death. It is the spreading of hate via words that leads to people dying; it is the spreading of love via words that saves lives, that makes lives worth living.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

 Cornel West

Remember these things. Remember how powerful your words are, and remember to speak from a place of love, that you may help bring justice to the world.

In defense of “Y’all”

I’ve noticed that people seem to hold a lot of vitriol and hatred of the term y’all. I can only assume this stems from the belief that if you have a U.S. Southern accent, you’re automatically less intelligent than the rest of the country and/or world, therefore using words like y’all mark you as less-than by intellectual elitists.

Well, I am an intellectual elitist, and I think the word y’all is just fine. I also don’t believe that a Southern accent automatically makes someone stupid, which makes me a bit of a pariah in elitist circles.

We need more gender-neutral terms in our language. Everything is so male-dominated — people won’t blink at saying “You guys” for mixed-gender groups of people, but say “You gals” and suddenly you’re emasculating every dude in the room. “You dudes” is another term. “Hey bros.” We may throw women a bone by saying “Hey dudes and dudettes/bros and ladybros,” but you’ll notice that doesn’t happen very often. (And the words are basically just the same, with a suffix or prefix tacked on. Don’t even get me started on -ette being a diminutive.)

Yet saying “You all” seems strange, and stilted. If I try to say “You all” as two separate words, I end up saying “You all — all of you — all the people I’m talking you — you all — whatever, just come over here.” As a contraction, however, it’s much smoother, much shorter, and gender-neutral. “Hey y’all, come over here for a second.”

I mean, really, what else can you ask for? It’s perfect for everyday use. I don’t understand why people think it should be limited to the Jason Stackhouses of the world, or that using it makes you less-than. It doesn’t. Southern accents don’t make you less-than. There are tons of smart people with Southern accents, and tons of stupid people without. Dear gods, folks, stop with the hatred of people just because they come from a certain region.

And anyway, nothing sounds stupider than “Youse guys.”