Why Language Matters: Epicly Dangerous

I have been thinking about writing a blog post on language for a while. Some of the images I see floating around in the world of triathlon, the statements I read on Twitter, the motivational images that pop up on my timeline in Instagram and Facebook… They all use language liberally to evoke emotion and response. And I’m not sure I like all of it.

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I’ve written before about language and how the use of words matters to me in my cupcake rant. I got to thinking again about language while reading Macrobiotics for Life by Simon Brown. Wait, what? Language and macrobiotics? I know. Random, right? But bear with me…

I picked up Simon Brown’s book up after meeting Leslie Ashburn this summer in Hawaii. I took a cooking lesson with Leslie because I was curious – I had heard about macrobiotic eating in the glossy magazines alongside of photos of Gwyneth Paltrow.  But I had no idea what exactly it was.

Turns out macrobiotic is TASTY! Brown rice sushi, massaged kale salad, chocolate cake, and taking the time to enjoy the process with friends!

Macrobiotics is a lot more than just eating nice vegetables.  It’s about living in a wholesome and balanced way – in all aspects of our life from the table to our thoughts.  Here is a quote that has stuck with me, that really embodies the “whole life” nature of the movement:

“By the very nature of language, as we express, we create dogma all the time.”

So by writing, I am creating dogma. I am codifying my set of beliefs with the choice of words I make. Therefore I should think, mindfully express. For me, the fact that my words are dogma hammers home that my word choice matters.

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Word choice came up today on a Twitter exchange I had with Matt Fisher about the use of the word EPIC. To short cut to the meat of the discussion, a fitness professional posted a photo of himself doing the Peacock Pose, inviting people to join his EPIC workout classes.

Here’s a photo of the peacock pose from Yoga Journal.

Epic. A synonym for epic is heroic.

Now, is the peacock pose EPIC? I doubt you’d find a yoga practitioner stating that they had just done an EPIC pose. Maybe they would be pleased that the dedication to their practice enabled them to execute the asana. But would they find themselves heroic in their achievement?

Dedication, commitment, practice enabling the execution of the pose – YES. But EPIC? Not by my use of the word.

Language matters.

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Which brings me around to another piece I read today, a post by Donal Buckley on why open water swimming should not be treated lightly.

Buckley’s message: open water swimming and marathon swimming is dangerous.

I appreciate the message – that this type of physical feat is no joke. That people die. That hospitalisation is frequent. That the key to safe swimming is preparation and commitment, drawing on the knowledge and experience of those around us, putting ourselves in the best possible place to meet our goals.

But really… Dangerous.  Dangerous was the word he chose to express his message.

Definitionally he is of course right. Endurance swimming does involve possible injury, pain and harm. It is definitionally dangerous. But by choosing this word – by emphasising danger – he misses an opportunity.

Perhaps it is because I grew up in Hawaii with phrases like these?

Respect the Aina

Malama o ke kai

Respect your land. Take care of the ocean.

Surely the opportunity is to push ourselves and others to respect the challenges that we undertake. To push for personal humility, rather than brash arrogance. To be mindful. To respect what we ask our bodies to do, to respect the forces of nature which we embrace.

How can you not respect the beauty and power which surrounds us?

The selection of a negative word achieves the objective, hitting the reader like a giant slap of reality. However, I’d choose differently. Pushing toward the positive, in both words thoughts and actions.

Language Matters.

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Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am a bit cranky due to my ankle injury. But maybe we shouldn’t be so liberal with our word choice. Maybe we should take more time, seeking eloquence in expression rather than raw impact? To be more considered?

Surely, language matters?

Or does it?

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