As a writer, words fascinate me. I think of words as letters strung together like pearls on a chain to convey a thought, a feeling, a fact. They can be entertaining, they can be informational, they can be inspirational. There’s a shadow side of words, too, but we don’t need to focus on those.
This pondering came about after I received an email this week reminding me that yesterday, May 4, was to be World Naked Gardening Day “when people across the globe are encouraged to tend their gardens, flower boxes and yards clothed only as nature intended. Got a little plot of paradise fenced off at home? Then discard your inhibitions and stretch your personal barriers by pulling weeds and cultivating your herb, vegetable and flower garden with nothing between you and the sunshine but a bit of sunscreen.” I did not participate in the event, and I’m sure my neighbors give great thanks for that blessing, but it did get me to thinking about the word, “naked.” As others have explained before, say it properly and it simply means you’re unclothed. But, if you pronounce it as “nekkid” — that means you’re up to something.
The email gave several instructions: Use sunscreen liberally; if you participate at dawn or dusk, use insect repellent; prune roses, bougainvillea and other thorny plants with caution. I’ll just leave that thought there and go on to something that confuses me. People were also told to wear protective gloves, hats and sunglasses – but how could you be naked —or nekkid — if you had something on?
The naked/nekkid situation got me to thinking about other words that some of us older Appalachian Americans pronounce differently than the traditional way. For example, right now my irises and peonies are in full bloom, filling the air with those heavenly scents and giving the eyes a colorful feast. My mother and Mamaw Braden would have said, “The ‘arses’ and ‘pineys’ are in bloom.” I confess, when I’m with “my people,” that’s how I say it, still. But when I’m with folks of unknown lineage, I’ll most likely very carefully put my tongue around the proper pronunciation and slowly and deliberately sound out each syllable. As my Daddy would have said, “I’m a-telling you what’s the truth,” that ain’t easy.
A couple more words I have to really think about before I say them are “okra” and “Irish potatoes.” I grew up with “okry” and “Arsh taters,” and I really believe I was in college before I knew that an “Arsh tater” was, in fact, an “Irish potato.” Hey, a tater by any other name is still delicious whipped up with a stick of butter and whole milk and served with Southern fried chicken and a mess of green beans.
On a more serious note, the Bible tells us that words are powerful instruments that can build up or destroy. Here are a few verses I found:
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV): “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Colossians 4:6 (NIV): “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
And finally, Proverbs 18:21 (NIV) says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Pretty sobering thoughts, aren’t they?
What we say to others and to ourselves can help or hinder, soothe or inflame, encourage or discourage. We must use them wisely, because one day, we’ll end up eating those words.
Matthew 12:34 tells us, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” May we all take the advice of Philippians 4:8 and fill our hearts with words of life: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”