Words. I’ve been thinking a lot about words. This might not come as a big surprise. After all I am a writer and editor. But mostly I’ve been thinking about them in terms of the power of words, politically, socially, personally — how they gain power and how they lose it.

It was brought home again to me last night. I was attending a book launch here in Ottawa by Chizine publications. Several new books were coming out and there were readings and a little music. Notably, Matthew Johnson, Ottawa writer, was reading from his new collection of short stories, Irregular Verbs. He read the title piece which by exploring the idea of the private language that couples or families construct was able to not only take us into the world of private grief caused by the death of our loved one but also explore the more public grief felt by a people when their language disappears. Having spent many years working on the issue of Aboriginal languages through my association with Senator Nick Sibbeston, it resonated deeply with me as I thought of the struggles to retain and re-invigorate the many threatened tongues in Canada and around the world.

Which brings me back to my original thought. Language gains its power from its use. Similarly it loses its power when it is no longer used or is, if this can be said about a language, misused. Certainly that happens with individual words.

Terrorism is a good example. This is not a new word, not a product of 21st century events. Or even of 20th Century ones. Terrorism, as a political tool, was first seriously discussed by 19th Century anarchists, many of whom argued that in the face of totalitarianism and the overwhelming power of the state, it was the only tool. Terror as a way of undermining state authority may have seemed logical at the time given the burgeoning police states of Russia and Austria.

Terrorism no longer means that at all.

And that’s ten minutes. More tomorrow.


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