Month: August 2015

The Implications of the Words We Say: Learning Linguistic Mindfulness

First, before reading the post below, please check out my most recent post to this From Fandom to Family blog of mine, which was a reblog from someone else’s WordPress blog: How I stopped worrying and learned to remove ableist language from my vocabulary.

I haven’t updated my blog in a while. This was saved in my drafts for ages and I decided to put the finishing touches on it and publish it today.

And please forgive my writing style below. For some reason, this time, I chose to write about the past in a pseudo-present tense, for effect.

I’m a small child attending an American public school, so of course we have to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Decades later, I’ll still remember the words. We did it — or at least heard it, even if we didn’t speak it — every morning for 13 years.

I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America.

And to the Republic
for which it stands

One Nation
Under God

With Liberty, and Justice, for all.

I remember finding out what the word “Indivisible” means and realizing for the first time it is not the word “invisible”. As a child, “invisible”, meaning: Impossible to see; not visible was a word I’d learned. I’d learned what “invisible” meant many years before I learned the uncommon English word “indivisible” that meant: unable to be divided.

I think it took me a long time before I had my little personal epiphany and began to fully understand that the words in the pledge aren’t just sounds to chant but rather two complete sentences that are actually supposed to make sense. I remember thinking about the meaning of what I’d been reciting only years after having begun saying it on a daily basis. When I was 5-years-old, I didn’t know what I was doing.

In kindergarten, I was certainly not old enough to care about the meaning of words I was being required to say. I should not have been required to say those words. I do not like that my country continues the tradition of saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” in school each morning.

I’m attending Catholic Religious Education Classes as a kid, and it’s called CCD, although none of us know what those letters stand for, or why we don’t just call it Religious Education. One of the most often discussed religious figures is the Virgin Mary. I find myself embarrassed at age 14 that I didn’t realize Virgin wasn’t just part of her name/title or something very specifically Catholic. This is actually a descriptive term? This means she’s never had sex? Wow. To have gone this far in life and to not know what Virgin Mary means? That is unacceptable. Words like “virgin” have meanings and I should’ve been taught what it meant many years sooner. Age 14 was a bit late. Eighth grade? Why had no one explained the concept of virginity to me before now? If the “Virgin Mary” was going to be discussed in my presence for as long as I can remember, the meaning of “Virgin” should’ve been of some importance. I don’t like having used a word myself for years, not realizing I didn’t know what it meant.

We head away from the auxiliary building on the church grounds where the classrooms are, going over to the church and the chapel area where the confessionals are, because today is the day, as comes up once a year now, where it’s time to, as a class, confess our sins to the priest. They guide us through a brief presentation first about what confession is, how it’s a Sacrament, how we need to confess our sins, and what common examples of sins would be. I start to feel nervous, worried, anxious. I didn’t do any of the things on the list! Disrespecting my parents? Never, my abusive mother made sure I always respected her. My dad… was always so worthy of respect in comparison. Using “bad language” like “Oh my God,” or “What the hell?” also wasn’t something I’d ever do. I’d always say “Oh my Gosh,” or “What in the world?”. But still… if I had used the Lord’s name in vain… that’d have been breaking a commandment, right? Maybe I should just tell the priest I did that. Maybe I should lie in Confession so that I have something to say. I look back down at the long prayer written on a piece of paper that is now my hands. How am I supposed to memorize this whole Act of Contrition? Oh, we can look at it even once we’re alone with the preist? Great. I can relax a bit.

I don’t care that much that what I will say is true because the pressure is on. I need to say something. I need to act like I am a sinner. The exact sin I choose won’t matter. I try so hard to be a good person and here I am feeling guilty about lying in Confession. Because telling the truth does matter to me. Because I do care about the meaning of what I say, and what these lies will imply about me as a person, as well as what lying itself will mean about me.

I am sitting in my aunt’s house, playing a game of Scrabble. I look at the letters I have. Included among them are J, I, and P. That’s probably not how you spell the word I’m thinking of, though, right? “To jip”, meaning to deprive, or to cheat? I turn to my dad. “How do you spell ‘gyp‘?” I ask. I’m informed it’s spelled with a G and a Y. “What?” I’m confused. That’s an odd spelling for an English word. “It’s based on the word Gypsy,” I am told. (I soon learn it is derived from prejudiced popular perceptions of the Romani people as thieves and petty swindlers). I am a bit horrified that this word that I had used casually in the past has this particular… history, and spelling. I vow to avoid using the word in the future, if I can remember. It just feels so… racist.

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