Do words matter?

7 March 2010 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

Do words matter?

  • c-section vs. cesarean birth
  • surges vs. contractions
  • pressure vs. pain
  • extended breastfeeding vs. full-term breastfeeding

Looking at the examples above, do you see a difference in the way the same thing is named? Hypnobirthing definitely argues that words do matter–hence its emphasis on the new vocabulary of “surges” and “pressure.” Breastfeeding advocates suggest that calling the act of nursing a toddler “extended breastfeeding” somehow labels early weaning as the norm, and that instead a natural weaning approach should be called “full-term breastfeeding.” Similarly, some birth advocates suggest that when a woman does have a surgical birth, she should not be cheated out of the label of “birth”–calling it merely a “c-section” can intensify any birth trauma and negative feelings she has, and make her feel further divorced from the process of birth.

As a linguist, writer, and general word-person, of course my bias is to say that yes, words do matter, but I know that sometimes this idea can be a hard sell to people who think that it’s all “just” semantics. But I think the words we use and we hear shape our experiences and our perceptions, as the examples above make clear–there’s no escaping the way language shapes our world. 

So, do the words matter? You tell me.



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