Do words have power?

By Cindy Moy: The Husband, an American of Chinese descent, and I attended a wedding in a small town in Ohio.  Everyone was wonderful to us for three days.  One night we were walking back to our car with my in-laws and passed three teenage boys, sitting in a doorway along the sidewalk, drinking beer.  I knew what was coming.

They took one look at my family and began making karate chop noises.
My husband ignored them.
My in-laws ignored them.
I was upset.

When we got back to the hotel my husband said, “I can remember this weekend for the dozens of truly nice people we’ve met, or I can remember it for three drunken idiots on a sidewalk.”

The Husband was able to take away the power those teenage twits had used to try to intimidate him.

I was telling my friend Lisa about what happened that weekend.  Lisa’s father is of German descent and her mother is Japanese.  Her parents live in Wisconsin because that was one of the few states that allowed interracial marriages when they were first married.

Lisa told me about riding the school bus with her brothers and sisters, and how the other kids used to call them japs and krauts.  They would get upset and go home crying and say “Dad, DO something.”

Their dad would say, “If you don’t like what they’re calling you, make up your own name.” 

So they did.  They took kraut and jap and combined them into krap—with a K, mind you.  Then when a kid would call them a jap they would say, “I’m not a jap, I’m a krap.” And they would fall over laughing.  They took away the power of the name-calling.

Words are powerful weapons.
Words have the power to hurt.
Words have the power to offend.
Words have the power to start wars.

Where do words get their power? From us.

Do you think it is possible to take away the power of words?

6 thoughts on “Do words have power?

  1. To varying degrees. Brings me back to the ‘slings and arrows’ I endured as a kid. Ugh. I think there’s a lot to be said for the environment we grow up and live in. Perpetuating stereotypes, etc, that permeate families and communities. Language is learned and hurtful language equally so. Good thing it’s possible to rise above it.

  2. we had our own name too…. it was spichingo….. we came up with it ourselves and kinda loved it. And it did draw plenty of laughs. I don’t have any memories of people saying hurtful things…. but we are in the south, so maybe I just have tough skin….. or they said it with smiles and a heavy accent and it didn’t seem that mean.

  3. Hi Cindy! It’s Clara from the Iceland Writers Retreat! Surfed by to check out your blog because I was really intrigued, and found this post very interesting. It’s not just words though, I’ve often felt that people don’t know how to react to me in social settings when I travel outside of Asia, and I wonder if it’s me and that I’m not being sociable enough. (I now realise why I felt so comfortable chatting with you!)

  4. Clara! Welcome to the conversation! My kids and I often talk about intent–whether a stranger is being standoffish because they don’t like Asians or because the stranger is simply afraid of doing something offensive. Meeting people is stressful, and we try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Glad you stopped by!

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