Watch your words

Words are powerful, but the most emotional impacts come with context. There are certain words tied to specific historical events that impart these terms with meanings and memories that render them nearly unfit for use.

How did “hijack” resonate before and after 9/11? Any writer who throws this term in a story has to consider the effect.

When I hear the word “undesirables,” my attention immediately shifts to the Nazi genocides, and that line of thought quickly transports to modern-day horrors such as Darfur.

Associate Dean Brian Brooks sent a memo to journalism students last week here at Mizzou. People have been propping doors open after hours, and this stands as a security concern.

But the second paragraph read, in full, as follows:

The security system is in place to ensure that unauthorized persons do not enter our buildings after hours. In the past, we have had problems with undesirables using the restroom facilities, sleeping in the buildings and the like. This makes for an unsafe environment for those with legitimate need to work in our buildings at night.

I added the emphasis in case you read through that awful word. I’m not claiming that Brooks is racist or classist. He just needed someone to read through the memo before it was emailed to several thousand students.

Especially in the days of this economy, homelessness should not be tangled with pejorative meanings. Living on the streets is not always a choice.

Remember: everybody needs an editor.

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