Rediscovering Language

For ages, our culture has been promoting the three Rs. No, not “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic”, but “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. The recycling campaign has changed the way we view waste. But it may have affected more than just our trash habits. Consistently using those words may have changed our vocabulary, our marketing, our culture and the way we view the world. Can three words actually change culture? That may sound far-fetched, like nothing more than a grandiose exaggeration. But does it matter how it sounds if it’s true?
I saw a poster the other day that caught my attention. It was a picture of a water bottle with the word “rehydrate” on it.  You may think nothing of that, yet I was intrigued by the choice of words. They deliberately chose “rehydrate”. Why not just “hydrate”?
Once I noticed the word “rehydrate” I noticed the prefix “re” everywhere. The concert promised to “renew my spirit”. Why would it not inspire me? I was encouraged to “reshare” the post. Wouldn’t that just be sharing the post with my friends?
Why was this idea reappearing everywhere? What’s with all the adjustments in the language? Scratch that, what’s with all the readjustment of the language? 
There is a mental trick that some people call the “new car effect”. When you buy a vehicle, you begin to notice how many other similar vehicles there are. Why is that? Making that major purchase changed your worldview a little bit and your brain was on the lookout for similar cars. People in your neighbourhood didn’t all go out and buy the same car as you; you just started to notice the vehicles. Similarly, when you learn something new, your brain subconsciously looks for more examples to confirm the idea. You are bound to find other examples, and when that happens, subconscious confirmation bias occurs to affirm that there are more of those examples. 
Maybe there wasn’t a sudden uptick in “re” words, maybe I was just noticing them. As I continued to look for more “re” examples, though, I concluded that even if there weren’t more examples than the day before, the ones I was finding may have a message to share.
Another ad I found promoted the benefits of their “re-wool” sweaters. “Re-wool” isn’t a real word. It’s an invented word used to explain that the wool is reused or recycled. But somehow rephrasing it from “pre-used material” to “re-wool” changed the allure. Adding the prefix “re” gave the familiar positive connotation of environmentally friendly recycling. It could also add a fun and hip feel by creating a new word. “Re-wool” just sounds better, doesn’t it?
Language shapes culture and culture shapes language. In Latin, the prefix “re” means to do something over and over. It signifies backward movement. I think that our word usage shows that we’ve started to think that we can redo anything. We’re moving backwards. We can rewrite the letter. We make a commitment but then reconsider. We don’t need to create our own stories or ideas; we’ll repost random tweets and posts. Everything is redone, recreated or reborn.  
Maybe I’m blowing a simple poster out of proportion. But I think it pays to consider how our language is shaping our culture. Do we hesitate to commit? Are we original? Are we intentional with our words? We can redo a lot, but not everything. Three simple words may not have affected our culture, but something is making us reform our thinking. 
If you like, you can reshare this article. 😉 Or better yet, share it with your friends.


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