Lewis Diuguid

Ending violence starts with word use

Guns contribute to violence in the United States, but so does the language people use, which promotes aggression.
Guns contribute to violence in the United States, but so does the language people use, which promotes aggression. The Associated Press

In 1995, my friend SuEllen Fried started me on a path to “gentle-ize” my language.

“Gentle-ize” is her word. It involves extracting needless violence and all of the associated motifs from how we communicate. It’s mostly unnecessary to use such words as fight, battle, punch, war, stab and bruise unless they relate to whatever is being described.

But those words and more have become fixtures in our lexicon. They show how much violence is embedded in our way of life. Fried for years has advocated kindness and anti-bullying programs in schools.

I have strived to follow Fried’s lead, but sometimes, like an addict, I fall into old habits of word use. Fortunately I have other friends who help to keep me on the path to peace and a more definitive, less violent use of the language.

That’s where Judy Sherry stepped in. She is president of Missouri and Kansas Grandparents Against Gun Violence. It’s this area’s chapter of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, which started after the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Adam Lanza, 20, entered the school and fatally shot 20 children ages 6 and 7 and six educators before taking his own life. Grandmothers Against Gun Violence began in January 2013 in Massachusetts to “influence public policy to create an America free from gun violence, where our children and grandchildren are safe at home, at school and in our communities.”

The group seeks federal and state background check systems for people seeking to purchase firearms, including a mental health history; having gun trafficking declared a federal crime; the enforcement of state gun laws; and raising awareness about gun safety. The organization and several others provide a wonderful voice of reason to the pro-firearm National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists.

Despite Sandy Hook and recurring mass shootings, legislators keep liberalizing gun laws instead of enacting more controls to make cities safer.

The Kansas City group always included men who wanted to reduce gun violence. But in September 2015 the organization changed its name to make it official.

This year Grandparents Against Gun Violence published “Words Matter Gun Thesaurus 2016.” It is a pamphlet now, but it certainly is open to additions because our language and word use are riddled with violence in a way that promotes and normalizes such behavior.

The first example of a “gun term” in the thesaurus is “ammunition.” Suggested synonyms are “facts” or “evidence.” Also under A is the phrase “armed with facts.” The thesaurus alternative is “well-prepared.”

Instead of “aim for” the grandparents suggest “hope to achieve.” Instead of “ask point blank” the grandparents suggest “ask directly.”

One of my favorites is “dodged a bullet.” The grandparents’ alternative is “avoided trouble.”

Then there is “going great guns.” The grandparents’ alternative is “succeeding beyond expectations. Also, “half-cocked” should just be “reckless.” “High caliber” instead should be “exceptional.” “Killer instinct” should just be “ruthless.”

“On target” should simply be “accurate.” “Shoot me an email” instead should be “send me an email.”

“Under the gun” should be “feeling time pressured.” “The whole shooting match” should just be “in total.” And “you’re killing me!” should simply be “You’re too much.”

It took some time for the group to come up with the commonly used words and phrases, and then to generate synonyms. But they are important in changing not only the language but the way our society as a whole thinks about violence and guns.

Change will take time, but it has to start somewhere. Why not this year and in the heartland?

Lewis Diuguid: 816-234-4723, @DiuguidLewis