"Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it."
Benjamin Whorf was a fire protection engineer in the 1920s who noticed the effect of words on behavior. A company he inspected separated full gasoline drums from the empty ones. The workers were careful to not to smoke around the full ones and took their cigarette breaks around the empty ones. Only the empty drums contained vapors which were even more flammable. The word "empty" was accurate in terms of being the opposite of full, but inadequate in being able to properly express the danger potential.
Whorf's anecdote demonstrates the importance of examining your language culture. If words influence action, it's worth considering the hidden meanings and concepts of your workplace jargon.
Here are some other language tidbits worth pondering:
- Thoughts precede emotion. You can change how you feel by intentionally shifting your thinking and using different word choices—a fundamental component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
- William Shakespeare contributed over 1700 words to the English language. One man! A few words that originate from the Bard include: marketable, summit, negotiate, exposure, excitement.
- Color is culturally relative. Not all cultures see blue and green as distinct colors. There are even cultures that have dark, light and red for their complete color lexicon. An interesting map to consult: the World Atlas of Language Structures Online.
- Gesturing with your hands as you speak not only increases your credibility but also improves thinking.
- According to the book The Emoji Code, by Vyvyan Evans (a language researcher), emojis are making communication better because they add empathy and tone of voice to sterile, easy-to-misinterpret texts and emails.
Remember: words are direct artifacts of culture. The words you choose to use and emphasize at work determine the kind of business you will have. Use them artfully! And be original!