The hidden language of language

I’m a firm believer in the power of language. However, it’s something we take for granted because it’s such a regular part of our every day.

A few weeks ago I talked about the subconscious use of language that drives sexism. I’ve also discussed why saying “follow your passion” has lost its meaning. And a few months ago I wrote one of the most challenging subjects I’ve taken on so far, the trivialisation of the word ‘rape’ in corporate environments.

The theme that underpinned all of these posts was that how we choose to use certain words, and at what frequency, bears a huge weight on what we consider to be normal. And subsequently what behaviours we act out.

Today one of the workshop sessions I was in discussed a concept I’d not heard of before called ‘smog’.

‘Smog’ stands for: should/shouldn’t, must/mustn’t, ought/ought not and got. Unsurprisingly, these are all ‘stress words’.

But just like all the words we overuse, we don’t make the connection to them triggering stress because we say them so often.

I can’t imagine the number of times I’ve said “I really should go for a run” or “I’ve got to check my emails”.

What this language creates is an obligation to the task, as opposed to ownership of it.

Today, what was proposed as the alternative was “I choose” or “I choose not to”. And, just like every other logical thing on the planet, my response to this was “oh yeah, of course. That makes a ton of sense”.

“I’m choosing to go for a run in the morning”.

“I’m choosing to check my emails”.

Immediately, the context shifts. There is accountability, responsibility and an ownership of what we are doing. And ultimately, these three things need to be at the core of the actions we choose to take.

Have you ever stuck a post it to your computer screen only to ignore it for so long that you barely see it anymore? Language is the same thing. We can be so habitual with the words we use we don’t always hear what we are really saying.

‘Smog’ is just one way of considering this topic but it’s such a good example of a small change that can have a big impact. And ya know, acronyms are catchy.