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November 21, 2014
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The Potency of Words


From an early age, my mother insisted I speak French with her. My grandparents insisted on speaking Yiddish to instill a cultural identity. This linguistic tug of war defined my formative years and ignited a love of language. By the time I achieved fluency in reeling off parts of a chicken’s body in Yiddish (even though I didn’t know the corresponding parts of the human body in English), my tutelage came to an abrupt end due to my grandparents’ untimely deaths.

Around this time my father took center stage. Dad was a man of taste and distinction who taught me to treasure and love the English language. Each year he escorted me to the local public library.

“Feel free to ask the kind librarian whatever you want,” he instructed, planting me at her desk before he sped off. I was diversion while he stole the latest edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary. He needed to replace the beaten up, dog-eared and scotch-taped one he stole the previous year. For Dad was Master of The New York Times crossword puzzles and the Merriam Webster dictionary his bible.

“Done!” he crowed in joy each morning. “Less than five minutes! And in ink!”

My brother and I egged him on with a stopwatch. “Dad, we want to time you!” That was when he was in his glory, sweating bullets, pressing deeply with his pen under the curious and demonic eyes of his offspring.

Daily, Dad thumbed through the dictionary pages to select words to augment our minds through vocabulary. Which didn’t help a seven year old in the school bus. I learned that calling a classmate ‘poo-poo head’ didn’t inspire a fight. However, tossing a ‘genetic anomaly, a throwback’ or, even worse, ‘schmeggegah’ brought out fists, fueled from my tonal quality more so than the words’ underlying meanings.

I can only blame my father, who primed me to fall headfirst into this cult, which defined itself through languaging. At the initial seminar as well as the subsequent ones I took over ten years I became versatile in the mechanics of molding words to do my bidding. I crafted a future in the future, not a way to relive the past. All it required was words.

Bit by bit, though, I understood their true potency. I witnessed experts at disembowelment and manipulation who harmed and maligned people without their awareness, simply to enroll them into additional courses at the cult. The last few years I made a stand against evil, beleaguering cultists, pointing out their hypocrisy, their self-serving and what I liked to call, “the pea pod mentality.”