Words Can Hurt

Do any of you remember when parents told their kids that “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”? I know they were just trying to make us feel better, although words can hurt. The recent Oscars ceremony just emphasized that issue. I didn’t see the event in real time, but in all of the articles I’ve read about the Will Smith slap, not one talked about the “joke.” Yes, of course, assault is beyond unacceptable and, as someone who occasionally speaks from a stage, this incident was a bit scary. I’m glad that action has been the subject of much discussion.

What I would like to review here, though, from a WORDS perspective, is the “joke.” We often try to be funny by “making fun” of someone or something. Even gently, as a friend, we “tease.” It’s easy to cross the line, though. What we might think is meaningless (“I didn’t mean anything by it”) might be extremely hurtful to another. Especially when criticizing someone else’s looks: “Look how ___ (s)he is!” (Fill in the blank with any description, e.g. fat, skinny, short, tall, bald). “You have big ears” might sound like a factual statement, but not when it’s used in a derogatory manner, with pointing or laughing involved.

The slap, and the ensuing conversation, was a wake-up call to me. I was going to post an April “Fools” discussion about commonly mispronounced words, but the version I originally wrote could very easily be interpreted as making fun of the folks who mispronounce the words. Oops! Not my intent at all. I decided to take another look at my words.

And how appropriate that I am almost finished with my 4th Mr. Smiles book that talks about bullying!!

When thinking about this topic, I was dismayed to see how many words we have in our language intended to criticize other people: put down, razz, tease, pick on, bully, make fun of, harass, push around. I’m sure you can think of more.

Words shouldn’t hurt, but they do, no matter what our parents might have told us. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Thank you!

P.S. I’m saving the commonly mispronounced words for next month.😊

4 thoughts on “Words Can Hurt”

  1. I agree 100% that words can hurt, especially when you make remarks about someone’s looks, speech, or job. I grew up with that “sticks and stones can break your bones” lesson myself and it was hard to tell a grown up that words hurt.

    I am glad that there is more focus now on bullying than there was when I was a kid. I can still remember some of the insults that were tossed around at school 40 years ago. I think that shows how much words can impact us. Sadly, though, I think that social media has made it easier to bully people. Kudos to you for writing a book on bullying! I will most definitely purchase a copy for my grandchildren.

    Thank you for this thoughtful post!

    • Thank you, Laura, for those insightful comments. I, too, hope kids today feel strong enough to “If you see something, say something.” And let’s hear it for those supporting home environments that provide children with a safe place to feel strong enough to help others!
      I’ll let you know when the illustrations are ready for the book to be printed! Thank you for your offer to be a purchaser!

  2. Words sure do hurt….I can’t always remember what I had for breakfast or what I went into the pantry for, but I can remember the time my teenaged brother’s friend asked who “that dude” was in the kitchen (it was ME – I had super short hair at the time). OR the time (very recently) the cashier at Publix asked if the baby I was toting was my GRANDCHILD…he’s my baby, not biological, but mine – and for the record, I’m still in my 40s!

    • Thank you, Gina. You are absolutely correct that hurtful words stay with us forever! It takes inner strength to react / respond – a supportive “cast” certainly helps, especially for children.
      BTW, you are a young pup in my world!! 😉😊


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