Words & Banter

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Words


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Now that I understand it better, I have to admit my initial thoughts may have been an over-reaction.


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That often happens. Especially with you. But, what is the topic?


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Oh, sorry! Remember when you forwarded me the email from that woman who had read about our detour into the world of Criminal Justice on our website, and she said, "I just wanted to encourage you to consider changing the language a bit." At first, I rolled my eyes, but then I got annoyed.


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I remember the email but have no idea why you would get annoyed. It was not a random email from nowhere. She and I are both members of the Texas Women's Justice Coalition, although she is much more active as, for me, it is a learning experience. Plus, since she had been incarcerated, she has a very different perspective than I do.


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I wasn't questioning her credibility; I was annoyed because we've gone above and beyond to make it clear that we have open minds in terms of the criminal justice population – male and female. In fact, thanks to you, I went from a "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality to seeing them not as bad people, but people who have made bad choices.


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OK, but now I'm really confused as to why you were annoyed. It is not like you are only willing to help people on "the outside" but not when they are "inside".


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No, that's not what I'm saying. It's that initially, I thought to myself, gee, we've done all this – and for free – and it's some of the most rewarding work we've done, yet we're being criticized for using the word "offender"?! Seriously? One word!


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Yes, but she followed up by explaining how when we referred to them as "offenders" before seeing them as "people", it was contextually appropriate. However, by continuing to use the word "offender" it "perpetuates the dehumanization of the people in the minds of your readers."


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But one word?! I felt like she was ignoring everything else we said and being overly sensitive to one word!


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Sounds like you are the one being overly sensitive. Regardless, that one word has connotations, and conjures up images and stereotypes and misconceptions. It defines the person by their crimes and punishments, ignoring everything else. Words are powerful, so should always be used carefully, especially in criminal justice situations, where there is already such strong bias by both the media and society.


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I understand that. Now. The fact you thought it important enough to change the language on our website so quickly helped. Plus, the Marshall Project article you forwarded helped me understand that just because your intentions may be good, your choice of words can be damaging.


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I never realized that the word "offender" could be offensive (sorry, could not resist), as are other words such as "inmate" or "prisoner." But if changing it to "person who is incarcerated" can help change mindsets and attitudes, it seems an easy thing to do.


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Well, it worked on me … once I got past my assumptions and over-reaction.


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Sometimes change happens one person at a time …
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I keep getting emails about where to go for mocktails. I know alcohol-free cocktails, like Virgin Margaritas, have been around for a while, but I’d never heard that term before. Do you think it has to do with New Year’s resolutions?


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It can if any of your resolutions are to lose weight, save money, sleep better. Or, drink less. Psychologically, January is the month when we “reset”, so a UK-based organization, Alcohol Change UK, started Dry January, where you abstain from drinking alcohol.


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Perfect timing since many people shop, eat, and drink more than usual over the holidays.


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I know you used to drink a glass of Cold Duck on New Year’s Eve, a tradition going back to our childhood, but that hardly counts as drinking. But, I have always wondered why you rarely drink, but never asked.
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Popcorn! Quite simply, it’s one of my absolute favorite things. Starting when I was a child, whenever I went to the movies, I’d get (and finish!) the largest bucket of popcorn available. And I always thought movie popcorn was far superior to what you could make at home … until a recent trip to visit a close friend in Tennessee, and she introduced me to Great Northern Popcorn (I promise this isn’t a paid ad). Now I’m addicted to it as I can make it on my cooktop. I know Black would be more interested in the science of what makes popcorn pop, but I prefer to just be obsessive about my popcorn …

Popcorn. Just the thought of popcorn makes me smile, makes me want to indulge, makes me happy. And I’m guessing my popcorn obsession makes Black roll her eyes (although she might admit it can be a healthy snack). However, plenty of people must love popcorn as much as I do. Why else would there be a National Popcorn Day?!

Over the past few years, the pandemic posed challenges that none of us could’ve foreseen (and I’ll never forget the dedication of the front-line workers or make light of the sacrifices so many had to make). But part of me has to laugh at the irony because it ended my seemingly easy “escape” from the stresses of life – going to the movies and enjoying the largest bucket of popcorn – when I needed it the most.

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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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You’re going to roll your eyes, but lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about myself.


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That is totally out of character, unless you are thinking of New Year’s resolutions.


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Actually, no. For decades, my priorities, and therefore my life, have always been focused on the girls and Mom. But that’s all changing. And I’m not sure how to “change” with it.
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