I'm a lawyer, I blog, I write fiction, and I'm a partner in a small publishing company. Words are very important to me. Very important. You might even say VERY important.
But no matter who you are or what you do, you need to pay attention to words. Oh sure, if the words being spoken are in a language that is foreign to you, they are just pretty sounds. I actually like to listen to people speaking in other languages BECAUSE it lets me focus on the sounds, not the meaning. No, I don't just mean the stereotypically pretty languages, like French or Italian. Talk to me in Russian, or German, or Chinese, and I'll sit there entranced. I won't understand what you're saying, but I'll enjoy hearing it anyway.
But let me get back to my point. If the words being spoken are in a language you understand, it behooves you to pay attention to the words. Too many of us are sloppy and lazy, and that's a mistake.
Let's start with one of my pet peeves.... Head over heels. If you google this and you look at the images, you'll see pictures of people doing cartwheels, or handstands.
That makes no sense at all. The phrase is HEAD over HEELS... or if that doesn't point out the problem to you, then head OVER heels. In other words... standing up. And that's not what people generally intend when they use this phrase.
If you check wikipedia, you'll see that the phrase began as Heels over head. Now THAT, I understand. It's not clear when or why it changed... but I assure you, it only changed because people weren't paying attention to the words.
And how about the phrase Cold as Hell.
As it happens, about seven years ago a scientific report came out that the earth's core is both freezing and melting, all the time, and all at the same time. But that's a subject for another day. I doubt that many of you are aware of that report, and I'm willing to bet that nearly all of you would have said that the center of the earth was molten lava. And yes, I know... the center of the earth is not synonymous with Hell. So let's talk about Hell. All the pictures I could find, and the vast majority of the references I could find, all show Hell as a hot and fiery location. So, hot as Hell, I understand. Cold as Hell -- not so much.
Which brings me to my final point... the phrase With all due respect. Yes, I see you nodding your head, you're starting to get this. Typically, people use this phrase when they are about to disagree with someone, but want to show that, overall, they think highly of that person. And it's certainly true that 'While I generally think highly of you, I disagree with you on this point', is a lot of words. And you run the risk that your intended audience nods off, or wanders off, before you get to your point. Yet, when that's what I mean, that's what I say.
Because, when I say 'with all due respect', I mean exactly that. I mean 'with the respect that I think you are due, the respect that you are entitled to' (or - to which you are entitled). And the fact that people don't pay attention to the words, means that I can say "with all due respect... blah blah blah", when I might very well mean.. "I have no respect for you (or your position". How do I get away with this? Because people don't pay attention to the words.
My point is... words matter. You can't just throw them around, willy nilly. By the way, willy nilly means without consideration, in a haphazard or random fashion. And that's exactly what I meant.
And now, I will have a cup of tea.