Words Matter

Words matter.

A well-turned phrase can be as satisfying as a gourmet meal. That comparison may diminish somewhat depending on when the last meal occurred. But still, how words are used separate the want-to-be’s from the exceptional.


“Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction.” Proverbs 18:20

On the wall above my writing desk, I have a poster reminding me: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.” Psalm 19:14. I need to be reminded that what I let slip from my mouth (or computer) matters.

In my book, one of my characters, Sofia, grew up in the ghetto. Unable to cope with the loss of her husband, Sofia’s mother turned to drugs and prostitution, leaving her children hungry and deprived of necessities most take for granted. Sofia determined she would never be poor again. Part of her strategy out of poverty was to learn to speak properly. She knew the words she used mattered.

Last week my husband and I visited Vegas. While my husband attended a conference, I got to sit in our hotel room and write, taking intermittent breaks to stretch, grab a coffee, and people watch. Over and over I was impressed with the “limited” vocabulary around me. (I thought the obsession with body functions was supposed to end in grade school.)


Going through news articles shared online or watching interviews of (especially young) people, I am once again struck by the coarse and limited vocabulary that comes out of the mouths of people who assume themselves eloquent. Call it what it is. Potty-mouth. Locker room talk. Low class.

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:11


When I was a kid, my parents washed my mouth with soap if I used a shadow of some words thrown about in public now. I think each of my kids experienced this vocabulary cleansing at least once. For most, once was enough.

I had one son who challenged me over and over again. “They are just words!” He’d say. Yes, they are. Yes, words change over time, and our vocabulary changes with it. But we need to remember, words are a gift from God, and the words we use reflect who we are. They also reflect to whom we belong.

There was a time when a man apologized to a woman if a foul word slipped in her presence. (Not that he should have used it in the company of just men.)

There was a time when the audience gasped if an edgy word made it into a movie or play.


There was a time when the eloquence of a speaker moved a nation into action; inspired people to stand behind their leader.


What has happened?

Vocabulary is drilled into our children at school, they are tested on language use before being able to attend college. Why don’t they remember what they were taught?

Is it the movies we watch? I have to admit, I become so immersed in the story I am often guilty of ignoring and often not even hearing cuss words in movies. In most cases, the rest of the dialogue supersedes the questionable. I don’t think our language deterioration is caused just by movies.

Twitter, texting and emails make it easy to “write and send,” perhaps changing the word choices we would otherwise make. Would people use words more carefully if everything was handwritten and snail-mailed? This may be a factor, but surely it doesn’t explain it all.

Is it the lack of critical thinking or that we are critical of everything? All you need to do is get three or four comments down on any online article and see the amazing degeneration from discussion/debate to cussing someone out for…thinking differently? When did cussing replace discussion? When did telling someone off replace debate? It’s embarrassing.


Is it the company kept? People tend to talk like the people they’re with. Or do they tend to hang out with people like them?


“Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” Proverbs 14:7

When I find myself immersed in a crowd where every other word turns the air blue, I cringe to imagine the future these people have. Don’t they realize that how they speak matters? Words leave an impression of genteelness or crassness, of being cultured or uneducated, of intelligence or ignorance, of light or darkness. What comes out of the mouth reflects what is on the inside.

The lack of quality word usage is painful. In the “eloquent” words of our president—“It’s horrible.”

The mommy in me thinks I need to load my pockets with those tiny hotel soaps. There are a lot of young people out there who need a mom to wash their mouths out and teach them how to speak.


Here’s to a better future.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Keep on smiling!


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