Linguistic Epistemology

Linguistic Epistemology: the study of the way our language shapes our reality. In the interests of your reality and my own I promise not to use the phrase again but I do want to talk about the way we use words in our day to day lives.

Words box us in, even our own words. How often do you find yourself saying “I am [sad/angry/afraid]”? We may be feeling angry or afraid for a moment but defining ourselves as angry limits us, shrinks us.

Be particularly wary of defining yourself by other people’s words, especially your parents’. How often is your sense of who and what you are a legacy from your childhood, the result of unthinking but repetitive use of critical words when you were at an impressionable age and too young to know better.

And then there is work. Not only are we at risk of our boss carrying on where our parents left off, but we are subject to whole teams of professionals hijacking and misappropriating otherwise useful words. Turning them into weasel words: “engagement”, “collaboration”, “content”. The phrase “on boarding” always makes me think of water boarding. [Maybe if having read this you too will feel uncomfortable and stop using the awful phrase!]

We label the world around us. We can’t help ourselves. We may not even be able to think without using words to do so. Words are as about as intimate and personal as our experience of the world around us gets. We need to choose them carefully.

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