It is commonly said that there is power in the words we speak. This can be seen as just another saying, until an individual has an experience with the power of words spoken to him or her. At times, the words can have different meanings when used in different contexts (Naylor 1). Naylor gave this experience after observing that the word ‘nigger’ had been used so often in her presence but the reality of the word only hit her when it was spoken in a different context. The same case applies to me. Though I am blind, I never used to figure this as a major problem. I could even make jokes with my friends about it. However, when it was said to me by someone outside my social circle, I realized that it could have a totally different meaning. Based on the experience of Naylor as well as my own experience, I seek to assert the fact that words hold the power to make or break, depending on the context in which they are used.
I really enjoyed reading Naylor’s story on the meaning of a word. This is because Naylor brings out the reality of life and, in a very vivid manner, tells how the versatility of a word can be applied in different situations to bring about different meanings and effects. Naylor does this by using the example of the word ‘nigger’ (2). She first explains all the different contexts in which the word can be used, both the positive and negative scenarios. She then goes on to indicate that the word had not been used in a negative sense to her and so she did not know it could be insulting “until it was said by a small pair of lips that had already learnt it could be a way to humiliate” (Naylor 3). This explanation implies that the usage of words can have an effect on the private lives of individuals as well as on the social relations. From the story, it can be seen that Naylor immediately got to know that the word “nigger” could be used against her. She felt bad about the young boy who said this to her. Definitely, the social ties between Naylor and the boy were severed. This came about just because one of them had decided to use a word that had a strong, negative meaning. The context in which the word was used makes matters even worse, and it sounds even worse than another insult. It is no wonder that Naylor quips that “Had he called me nymphomaniac or a necrophiliac, I couldn’t have been more puzzled” (1). Something in the story tells that though the word was very familiar to Naylor, it had not been used with such passion and negativity.
The reason as to why I found this story very interesting is because I can actually associate with it. It so happens that I am blind and my parents are well aware of the fact. However, when I was young, they did not mention it to me nor make me feel that I had a kind of handicap. Rather, they made me feel comfortable just like any other human being and I believed that everything was absolutely fine with me. This was just as Naylor’s parents had done. However, the reality has to strike at one time or another. For Naylor, it was the young boy who spat the word to her face which made her realize that the word she had considered to be a normal word in conversation could actually be used as an insult. The same case happened to me. I believed that nothing was wrong until one day when we were at the park with my parents and I was on the swing. Other children came by and started asking what was wrong with me, why I could not open my eyes. This made me feel weird and scared. I wanted to hide by my father. I knew that I was blind but I could even laugh about it and even joke with my friends about it. This was because they supported and associated with me. To them, I was not a handicap and so I was free with them, but the encounter at the park brought in a new realization. This made me, just like Naylor, realize that there is some power in words. I could afford to make fun and laugh at my blindness, just as Naylor could hear the word nigger in light conversations. The manner in which the reality of these words hit us is very similar. At the social setting, they made us but in the critique mode, they made us feel uneasy.
Well, just like Naylor, I had to get an explanation and so my parents had to have the hard task of explaining to me what the matter was. I accepted the situation and even joined the National Federation of the Blind in which I learnt that blindness is not the end of life or a curse to be a social misfit. It is just a matter of accepting the situation and learning to live with it. The same happened to Naylor. After asking her mother for an explanation, she observes that “Since she knew that I had to grow up in America; she took me in her lap and explained” (3).
Looking at Naylor’s story and my experience, I could confidently say that the way words are used helps in creating the relationships in the society. As Naylor observes, there are different ways through which words can be used to show respect and adoration. However, in a different context, the same words can be used to bring division and conflicts between the people. It is just a matter of how, by whom, where, and in which context the words are used. Using the words in the right manner can lead to a strong social bond. This is what was happening in Naylor’s home where they could use the word ‘nigger’ with no reservations. It was a normal way of conversation that made them feel at ease and relaxed in each other’s presence. However, the same word applied in a different context, such as what the boy did, brings out a totally different meaning.
I also experienced the same. Being blind was not a big issue to me and still is not, simply because I have supportive people who appreciate me as I am. That is why I can afford to make fun of it with my friends and family. However, when other people joke with the same in my presence or talk about it, such as the scenario at the park, it gets totally different. It is for this reason that I agree with Naylor that the meaning of words can vary depending on the manner in which the words are used, and also in different social contexts. The main determinant of the meaning, however, is in the social context in which it is used as well as the personal relation of the word to the individual on whom it is used. This could be the reason as to why Naylor says, “But I didn’t ‘hear’ it until it was mentioned by a small pair of lips” (3). This implies that though the word had been used in her presence before, it was on a different social context in which usage of the word was acceptable. It is an assertion that words can actually be versatile in their meaning and usage. Individuals have to master this if they desire becoming good at communicating with others in a diverse world.
Naylor, Gloria. “The Meanings of a Word.” Mpsaz.org, n.d. Web, 9th Oct. 2012, http://www.mpsaz.org/mtnview/staff/lmbormann/class1/links/files/the_meanings_of_a_word_text_version.pdf