Word choice is something we generally don’t put much thought into. We seem take our vocabulary for granted. Each word we use in a sentence can have a very specific connotation to another person. For example, the difference between calling some one ‘cat woman’ is drastically different from calling someone ‘cat lady. ’To most people ‘Cat Woman’ is a character from Batman, while a cat lady is a stereotype of an older woman who surrounds herself with cats. The simple choice between the word ‘woman’ and the word ‘lady’ gives the audience completely different connotations, despite these two words having the same definition.
Now a more serious example is the difference between calling a fleeing Syrian a migrant or a refugee. Both of these words have been tossed around and used to categorize this group, but each word has drastically different connotations. For example, a migrant is one who is in migration, or looking for a new home to permanently stay. Migrants are also generally economic, traveling from place to place for work and generally in the agriculture industry. The term refugee implies a completely different connotation than migrant. Refugees are fleeing a place for their safety, whether for political reasons or warfare. To call someone a refugee implies that they are leaving their home due to a conflict that is out of their control, while to call someone a migrant implies that they have little reason to flee, ignoring the issues of their nation, while implying that they are arriving with purely economic reasons in mind. It’s a stark difference between the two words and this is why word choice is so crucial.
One final example is how we define an enemy through our words. Tim O’Brien wrote a fantastic book titled The Things They Carried. In this book, O’Brien describes the Vietnam war and attempts to give the reader extremely personal moments from the war. To make it authentic, O’Brien includes the other soldiers reciting slurs towards the North Vietnamese, their enemy. His choice to call the enemy combatants these slurs dehumanizes them. It removes the guilt from O’Brien and his friends for what they are doing. The connotations in these slurs paint a very different picture than the words we may use to describe a North Vietnamese person. All of this is to show how, no matter the context, word choice always plays a crucial role.
Language is our tool and we should use it properly by being selective with our words, only implying what we mean and supplying the connotations we desire. It is something we should be conscious of in our everyday lives because your word choice holds power and power can drastically alter someone’s opinions, beliefs, and views.