My Outlook: Toxic misinformation taking us in the wrong direction

By Shelley Luedtke

There’s no red carpet or designer gowns involved but there is an award handed out annually that garners interest, as well as considerable debate. The award seeks to identify the Word of the Year. For 2018 the winner is…well, that depends on the source.

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Based on print media and on-line searches one dictionary chose the word ‘toxic’, while another gave the title to ‘misinformation’. The word ‘toxic’ has been in English use since the 17th century although its roots in Greek and Latin go back much further. In 2018, in combination with words such as chemical, environment, culture, waste, and relationship the word saw a 45% increase in use.

Another agency chose ‘misinformation’ as their word saying it posed new challenges for navigating life in 2018. Its first recorded use was in 1580, and should not be confused with ‘disinformation’ which is an intentional effort to mislead. Misinformation is false information regardless of whether there is intent to deceive. The past year has indeed been interesting to navigate, particularly when studies indicate 60% of people admitted to believing and sharing stories on-line that were proven false.

In addition to awarding a Word of the Year there are also words eliminated from dictionaries when it is perceived they have gone out of use. Some, like brabble, hodad or nephoscope may not have too big an impact, but others have raised the eyebrows, and the ire, of parents, authors and educators. Back in 2007 a junior dictionary substituted ‘A is for acorn, B is for bluebell and C is for crocus’ with ‘A is for analogue, B for block graph and C for celebrity.’ The editors say children’s environments have changed and words from the natural world aren’t as relevant. Those protesting the changes insist that dictionaries should exist to extend knowledge and expand vocabulary. It seems odd that as massive efforts, laws and taxes are levelled against adults as efforts to protect the environment, the world of literacy is working in seeming opposition to bolster children’s appreciation of said environment. To understand something you first need to be exposed to it. If our children aren’t outside playing and experiencing nature (the justification for removing those words) shouldn’t we be re-doubling our efforts to ensure they get some exposure?

We’re changing the way we speak. Some of it is inevitable. Social change and technological developments are two big factors but honestly, some of it is simple laziness as we look for shorter and quicker methods to communicate. Nonetheless language is not static. It is in a constant state of transition. So if we have to sit back and watch as some words go out of use, I would like to suggest a few.

Like the phrase ‘ordinary Canadians.’ It is a favorite of our politicians. As we ramp up into an election cycle I guarantee this phrase will be used a lot and we will be told by many on the campaign trail what we…ordinary Canadians…want. I have no problem with things being ordinary but the constant use of this term as applied to people should end. Do they really see us as ordinary? No special or distinctive feature? Uninteresting? Commonplace? That’s what ordinary implies. How about instead appealing to voters as informed, engaged, interested, and interesting, people. And please stop telling me what I want. Instead…listen…when I try to tell you.

Another word I wish we could eliminate: hater. Instead of being used to describe someone who greatly dislikes something, it has become a way to dismiss anyone who disagrees with us. Thanks to some of our musicians we can sing about it and simply reject anyone who questions what we say or do.

But these are just blips on the radar. There are far more important words I wish we could banish. Hunger. Terrorism. Homelessness. Orphan. Imagine these words being removed from dictionaries because they were obsolete. There are many organizations, individuals and agencies at work tackling these issues. We could bolster their ranks.

Consider what would happen if we all spoke and worked in a way that turned the tide and put us on a new path. We could be part of an effort to crown a rather remarkable choice as the word of the year for 2019: hope. That’s my outlook.

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