Maggie Jones, MA, LPCC, and psychotherapist points out that this subconscious editing doesn't do us any favors. "When we are so tuned-in to other’s emotions and potential reactions (for whatever reason—past relational trauma, oppression) it can be hard NOT to subconsciously soften our words in order to avoid potential conflict," she says. Really, we should only be altering language intentionally.
Words like "just," "maybe," "sort of"—to be perfectly clear—are not just the currency of digital communication. They're often invoked when we're well within our rights to set a boundary, but feel the need to soften it to protect ourselves or appear agreeable. (For example, "That sort of makes me feel uncomfortable." Really: there's no "sort of." You feel uncomfortable. Period. End of story.)
Going on autopilot with this gendered vernacular takes a measure of free will out of speech, but we can take it back by paying a little more attention to what we say. "The key is having a choice around it; being able to use it as a tool when you deem it necessary instead of always doing it out of habit," says Jones. You don't have to banish the "J"-word from your vocabulary permanently. It just doesn't belong in sentence structures that emphasize—and re-emphasize—uneven (often gendered) power dynamics.
As treasured author Toni Morrison, who died earlier this week, said in her Nobel lecture, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” What Morrison is saying is that language is ours to tear down and rebuild letter by letter, word by word, and sentence by sentence. Language is an active pursuit. It's ours—no just's, maybe's, or sort of's about it.
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