Words Painful Lexicons

1203_words-FB-624x466Words have a terrible legacy and cause awful pain even where it is unintended. During the course of any relationship words are spoken, sometimes without thought or consideration of how those words might affect the other person. When we are deeply divided by experience, education, history and culture words become even more powerful. All too often, our lexicon is different, broader or narrower by our worldview and experience. When we add an unwillingness to learn the other person’s perception, concepts and values we judge and sometimes even punish.

It is a conundrum, sometimes unsolvable impossible to bridge without a willingness to listen, hear and speak our own truths in our own language.  If our relationships are long-term, whether friendship, love or even marriage we have to find ways to bridge the gaps in our understanding or we ultimately fail in our communication and our relationships. Fail to define the words you use they can be misconstrued and lead to horrible misunderstanding. Fail to balance your own cultural premise, personal history and even educational background with your audience you can be completely misunderstood.

Words have been a part of my life, all my life. Usually I think I am sensitive. Usually I think I understand my audience. Sometimes I am apparently dead wrong.

Dead wrong does not mean malicious.wordle

Dead wrong does not mean cruel.

Dead wrong does not mean foolish, stupid or ignorant.

What dead wrong means unaware the other person has not only taken your words and twisted them to their own truth but will refuse any definition but their own. There is no ‘Sorry’ for this, no bridge to walk across in remorse for words spoken without malicious intent. It is not possible to say anything other than, “I am sorry your feelings were hurt”, this disregards your own truth and fails to acknowledge you exist in the conversation.

Of course you are sorry the other person was hurt by what you have said, however, if what you said was not intended to hurt, was not malicious there is a ‘but’ behind it. The but is, you misunderstood what I said, the gap between your understanding and my intent needs to be discussed needs airing or it will continue to stand between us. The longer we ignore the unintentional hurt and the misunderstanding the wider the chasm and shakier the bridge we must cross to heal the hurt of both people.

What happens though when our unintentional words result in the other, perhaps our beloved or a best loved friend lashes out in anger? What happens when our unintentional words result in angry and hurtful words in response. How do we take those words into ourselves? Do we forgive without considering the source, even questioning whether thoughtless words spoken in anger do not hold a seed of the others truth.7757555-coarse-fabric-showing-warp-and-weft

Should we consider words spoken in anger as not relevant to the weft and warp of our weaving? How can we, when words form both the terrible flaws and the best strength of the fabric of our relationships.  Can we recover deep hurts when words flung in anger or retribution are deeply painful, deeply troubling.

These questions are on my mind, the question of words.


  1. I usually have no problem with people misunderstanding my meaning. With that being said, I mean people in the blogosphere or people who know me, but are not related to me. I find it interesting that the people who should know me the best, seem to misinterpret my words the most. My kids constantly misread me….delivery? And my hubby……mars and venus……

    • I find all to often, those who ‘love’ me and say they know me are the worst offenders of misunderstanding my meaning and filter application. I think I am shockingly clear in both my speech and my writing. I withhold little, am far from opaque. Ah well, perhaps it is simply that entire filter issue.

  2. frigginloon says:

    I’m the biggest most awesomest foot in mouther EVER. I have this amazing ability to upset and offend without so much as knowing it. I put it down to my deadpan delivery , my ability to find the funny side in everything and this weird psychic skill of bringing up things I shouldn’t know . That’s just how the Loon rolls. When I meet new people I always start off by saying “Hello, I have a foot in mouth disease, so if by some chance I say something to offend just ignore it “.

  3. Man, this topic seems to hit home for a lot of us… myself included… it’s always a juggle to prescreen my words, especially when it is written communication – like email or online “talking” and such. One thing is misinterpreted as mean, intentional or not, the response hurts worse because then the original speaker feels so bad for NOT having organized his/her thoughts better. Many of us, I think, kind of feel like we should know better and accept responsibility for any stress caused by these things.
    On the other hand, you have people who respond from an emotional place and you never know how they will react to something you’ve said, whether well thought out or not! Then it becomes a dual between one’s right to speak truthfully and another’s right to respond honestly, no matter the effect on the respondee or others in the conversation… all sort of vaguely said, but all have come from true situations. And I still don’t know the answer. I usually feel that if I feel offended by someone’s words, it’s my problem to deal with and try real hard not to add to the “fray”, others prefer to start the fray in the first place.
    So when it comes down to it, I always take on some of the responsibility, whether as speaker or reactor. Is that the right, fair thing for me to do? Heck if I know!!!
    Excellent post, Valentine!!


    • I still go back to the idea both people have to be willing to speak and hear the truth of the intent. This is especially true in long-term relationships, whether friendships or love. We can always say something with no intention of hurting that will be heard through filters and taken entirely out of the context of our meaning. Unless we can then say ‘this is my meaning, this is my context’, it is never resolved.

      I truly do not believe their is blame or guilt in these situations unless either side is malicious in their communications.


  4. 😳 sorry – you won’t hurt my feelings if you seriously edit or ..I shouldn’t be allowed to comment when I am stressed.. thats a MM right there.. lol but you said it better and I coulda just said I hear ya …but…oh ..no no no.. gotta go.. Mauh! ♥

  5. I was taught if I had nothing nice to say – say nothing.. and I was always careful about my words used to criticize or commend.. My ex husband taught me about how others can twist words to appear as if you maliciously uttered them.. and I learned to consider everything, to the point of not being able to carry a conversation at normal pace due to having to go over my words and fashion them and consider them, how they could be taken (wrong which was difficult because I rarely meant them “wrong”) before they left my mouth and hope I had not missed a meaning which could get me in trouble. after him, my (now ex) bf coaxed me back to a security of – being considered for what I was saying not having to fully consider what I wanted to say and bite my lip if it at all could be misconstrued in a derogatory way.. and I enjoyed being able to say whatever i felt like – I remember the first time I called him something I had never even in jest (as i was using it at the time) – called anyone in my family or relationship or …anything and I was mortified and apologized for days..really.. he laughed and to him it was not a big deal.. I never swayed totally on that camp but I learned from that to consider not just the word but the delivery. ,how it sounded and was meant not how I perceive the word – then when he left, turned everything around and I have often been smacked with angry replies based on misunderstanding …due to muddled faculties – his –
    I have had some deep discussions of words and meanings and weight of them and truth in them lately and have learned much about the high esteem I give to words – often holding them more of a truth then actions… I speak freely and do not misrepresent myself through words – not on purpose or with malicious intent or to back peddle or get out of a situation – or avoid something i dont necessarily want to face.. for the first time in my life really I am speaking my heart and mind and not worrying so much about what I am going to say because I know I am not mean spirited or hateful so will rarely speak in a way that wounds .. and living with more intergrity then when words were any of those things to me. I still always try to be kind,,, unless in full defense and pushed beyond my limits of acceptance.. then I use words to block and to cut to protect myself but even then( unless I am in an active state of mixed or irritible mania,,) I consider carefully each word and how to use it best in my defense .. and am ready for any angry response,,and have said things that were not indicitive of my overall love and commitment to that person.but because ..swallowing it – silence will not do….and so can often accept the apology of another for angry and hurtful words….I have a line I will not cross -,,of late I have been of the mind that the words themselves are not what should be considered but the way they are delivered and the tone .. I do believe that if we listened – especially to the ones we hold dear.. to not just their words but the way they say them ..many times we can move past the word… if we listen with our hearts, and open our minds, rather than stay hung up on the shape form spelling and particular definition we choose to assign that word…and think not react, those who would not maliciously speak on a normal level..would not be heard maliciously… our nature is not to set out to hurt another human (generally speaking) and if we remember that as well,, then when met with a hurtful response we can only stop and say..the response comes from hurt and fear and our very nature – self preservation.. it is easier to accept a loved ones angry retort or hurtful response … I think what you speak of can not be answered because it will always be a circle – with two people who love each other..we hurt each other in defense of our own senses.. and often fail to stop and consider that. It is easier to forgive the hurtful response when looking at it as a defense rather than offensive move..and considering our own actions – only someone who has never uttered a single word out of spite or hurt (and we think this is a desire to hurt back.. it is defense of ourselves.). can not forgive or have some level of understanding of words ill spoken… by one whom we hold dearest and closest to our heart…
    I wish I could have been more succinct – I did cut out quite bit of this comment.. 😕
    it was like …a butterfly.. thanks for posting your thoughts on something I have not been able to ..quite understand..


    • I think you are mostly right Lizzie, intent is usually the baseline. Sometimes though it is what the other person hears. The filters of the other person matters. I don’t know why, still trying to sort that one.

  6. singleworkingmomswm says:

    Such an incrediblyl thought-provoking post, dear friend! Words are like daggers, they say, and this can be true, so true. For me, I am so, so careful with what I say, ESPECIALLY when I’m angry. I’ve learned the hard way in past marriages, particularly, that yielding hurtful words is difficult to mend. I’ve been blessed with friends and family that I’ve not had these sorts of troubles with, but men, well, yes, I have. And, now I tread more lightly, carefully, thoughtfully in my words. And, overall, I care not to get into sticky conversations that may lead to muddy waters. Sometimes miscommunications happen, for certain, and most definitely in writing, but hopefully if two people love one another in friendship or otherwise, they can find that loving place and come together to discuss it calmly. If not, then it leads me to ponder if that same person was really a friend at all. Much love. XOXO-SWM

    • I think even in loving relationships, when we fail to recognize cultural differences or listen to the other perspective we can sometimes throw unintended stones. Without airing it out, talking about what was said, what was intended and why the two are not the same the hurt grows.

  7. Words are definitely a big subject in my life. When one is in a relationship with someone from a whole different country; and therefore, culture, yes we can share common languages, but even words, tangible as they seem, still can get jumbled because the cultural context in misunderstanding the words or communicating the words. Although I, too, am a lover of words in literature, poetry, prose and music…when it comes to relationships, actions weigh out to be more important.

    • This is part of a huge picture isn’t it. We work always to make ourselves understood. The cultural barriers certainly loom tall, or they can if we don’t make ourselves aware.

  8. Words are such powerful anomalies. I “teach” this lesson in all my communication and leadership classes. One of the characteristics of communication is that (1) it is irreversible meaning that once something is said, or written, there is no going back. You can apologize, cry, repeat in a nicer/more appropriate way, but the impact of the word will forever linger in the air and impact the functioning of the relationship. Another one of the characteristics is the communication is contextual, meaning that the meaning of the word is embedded in the person, place and time of the interaction. One word may mean something in one context and something completely different in the next. Communication is a pit of chaos and a bit of a war zone as there is space for miscommunication, error, hurt, pain (both intention and unintentional and conscious and unconscious) and conflict with ever sent message. I always teach this and then talk about the importance of being “active” and clarifying context since we frequently find ourselves angered or hurt because we don’t go back and make sure that we understood the message the same way that the person intended it to be understood. I get a LOT of “thank yous” at the end of the semester as students begin to put this active feedback process into place and realize how much happier, and more effective members of their communities they become. I might share this post with my students this year…give them something to chew on a bit.

    Excellent as always ❤

    • Culture is one of the issues in understanding, another is cultural experience. How we view the world and the message the world gives us.

      There is a very personal story behind this one. I am unwilling to put the story out there, odd that. We can talk about it though since you teach this one, it might add to your teaching.


  9. Lots to think about in this very subtle piece, Val. The hurt caused by speaking one’s own truth to have it misconstrued and thrown back at one is very real. The only way I can cope is not to get sucked into the anger, hang onto my own integrity and truth.
    I really hope that whatever it is that has wounded you resolves into the highest good for you and the other person.- whatever that may be- and often we don’t know until afterwards!

  10. Val, remember the old kids’ rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? What a bunch of bunk. Words can hurt like heck. My ex once used some pretty nasty words on me. Up until then, I was willing to hold on to our marriage after he cheated and did a bunch of other crazy stuff. But when he spewed his negativity through his words to me, well, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was out of that marriage in a flash after that.

    • Abuse with words is a terrible thing. Lashing out is another. Where we each have the lexicon of our history, our education, our culture and even our work which sometimes creates a language that is separate or different from others. These differences are not malicious or intentionally hurtful. Bridging differences though can be difficult. Failure to listen and learn the other persons lexicon leads to painful misunderstandings. Demanding another person apply only your filters, is I think wrong. There is a point at which ‘political correctness’ goes to far.

  11. Sometimes the words used are said or written to directly target another hoping for the ultimate reward of an undeviating assault; often the words selected are chosen to rip through the defences, manipulating and taunting a response that feeds an ongoing agenda, sometimes the words used are multifaceted without factual direction but are always strengthened with the expectation of ridiculing, especially when the target refuses to shield against such an onslaught.

    When one has done no wrong, reprisal is not necessary as the attacking individual’s offensive is unfounded and therefore irrelevant, and no matter what disappointments are felt by the recipient, eventually the tenuous heckling becomes obsolete.

    Words can be so cruel and truly hurtful my great friend,
    but it is what we do to counteract that detestation that is
    the real test of one’s true character.

    This is a very good posting Val 🙂

    Geoff xxx

    • You have said a great deal of very important things Geoff. I need to consider them. You are right, words can be terribly cruel sometimes with great intent and at others without intent and yet with the same result. I suppose we simply need to consider those results and evaluate.

  12. It’s difficult, at the best of times, to right a misunderstanding, but when anger is involved, a lot of times it’s near impossible. I suppose it depends who the people involved are and what the wronged party feels he or she has lost.

    • I think this cuts to the heart of it, what each party has lost. Pulling those threads apart is hard. Sorting through and trying to figure out what is important is also difficult. Sometimes, as much as I hate silence, perhaps it is golden until feelings can be sorted out.

  13. —Better off saying nothing than to let others know you are truly a FOOL–

    Xxx Kissssss for you, Val.

  14. Ooh. I tend to shut up and seethe until I can phrase my damning criticism in a more reasonable way. I take a lot of long walks when I am angry.

    • Sometimes I take plane rides. More expensive but I find the distance is convenient. I am not good at seething. I am much better at simply stating the obvious.

  15. I do not believe words spoken in anger should be discounted. Most often, they reveal the truth which would otherwise be covered by inhibition or the hellbent road of good intent. I believe considering the source is our greatest source of pain.

    We do not wish for this person to say such things or conceive them and especially not speak them to us in anger. The hurt only goes away with understanding, yet such understanding must be mutual. If only one is willing to cross the bridge, without the other meeting in the middle, it is the ceding of our concept to the other person. Ultimately, it is unfair to have to relinquish our beliefs to those of another on the grounds they are unwilling to accept there may be an alternate for their perception.

    I wish this was something far easier to fix. I love you.

  16. My Grandma always used to say “least said, soonest mended” and I do try and subscribe to that, but I’m not always successful!

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