Be careful with the words you choose

  • July 26, 2007
OMG. This tiny, seemingly harmless acronym is just one variation of a phrase that has invaded our everyday lives, from conversation to television scripting to instant messaging.
Many of us have been criticized by our parents or teachers at some point or another for abusing terms such as “like” and “um,” but have you ever stopped to consider how often we casually drop God’s name in vain?

Turn on any reality television show and watch what happens when, for instance, a made-over room is revealed to its owner. See if you can keep up as you count the number of times he or she says “Oh, my God!” Obviously, these people are not actually praising God for their freshly painted bedroom walls, but are using His name to express shock, excitement or in some cases, distaste.

Using the various forms of God’s name has become a trend not only in television media, but also in the vocabularies of many people, young and old, Catholic and otherwise. What is more incredible than its common usage is its versatility. We use it to express excitement, anger, frustration, annoyance, elation and, ironically, disbelief. We shout it, we utter it, we say it without thinking.

I have tried to remedy my own habit by substituting God’s name with euphemisms. A recent discussion with a co-worker about this got me thinking though. Are these terms any better or worse than using the names themselves? Isn’t our intention the same when we say, “Oh my gosh, hurry up!” as when we use God’s name in the same context? Arguably, we still intend to use the idea of God to emphasize a particular emotion.

The other trouble with this habit is the example we are setting for young people. We seem to be perpetuating the problem. I remember, as a kid, wondering if Jesus Murphy was related to my fourth-grade teacher who shared the same last name. I also recall discussing at length with a cousin who we thought Pete of “For Pete’s sake” might be, and why, exactly, so many things were done for his sake. These days, I watch frustrated parents say “For God’s sake, hurry up!” to their small children. I listen to young people give drama to an exciting piece of gossip with “Omigod, you have to hear this.” I find myself speaking slowly in order to censor my speech when I spend a week at camp with young children each summer.

When we use God’s name in vain, we also show disrespect for the sensitivities and religious views of others around us, regardless of age. Now is as good a time as any to start monitoring our language as an exercise in thinking before speaking. Try spending time around a kid or an elderly person, and you may find yourself choosing your words carefully. The respect we show to those around us when we think before we speak may translate into a greater sense of self respect, and might even help us  kick the “like” and “um” habits.

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