Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
The evening of what was supposed to have been election day, I began reading a new book. That's not an unusual occurrence. I only got a few chapters in before I closed the book and deleted it from my Kindle. That, too, is not an unusual occurrence. I'm a picky reader, although the quantity I read might indicate otherwise.
It wasn't the writing that turned me off. The author uses language effectively.
It wasn't a failure of editing that made me turn away in disgust. The writer obviously uses an editor who's competent.
It wasn't the story premise, either. The story begins with a young woman fleeing for her life and freedom after having been abducted and forced into sexual slavery. I can admire such strength, resourcefulness, and courage. I've written heroines with that kind of moxie. The plot has the heroine going after the wealthy, powerful degenerates responsible for the atrocities committed against her and other young women, like the movie Taken, only our girl becomes the badass out for vengeance.
Nope. It was the language. The words the author used. Or, rather, the words the author had the so-called heroic figures use. They exploit the heroine, debase her, speak of her in derogatory terms, speak to her in insulting terms ... and to make matters worse, she likes it. It excites her.
This kind of stuff disgusts me. It offends me. There's an utter lack of respect, regardless of the heroine's point of view and internal monologue. The heroes do not respect her. She does not respect herself. Aretha Franklin ought to be spinning in her grave.
I know a lot of readers enjoy this type of fantasy. I could be politically correct and say that's okay, but I'd be lying. I don't think it's acceptable because we think in words. Our values and opinions are derived from what we hear and read, communicated in words and deeds. Words accompany deeds and describe them. Words fire our imaginations and sink into our souls. Words inform us and teach us. They frame our thoughts. What are we if we have no words?
The words we use matter. Shakespeare was only half-correct. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but the meanings assigned to words also influence our perception of the objects and actions they describe. Using an offensive term ascribes the insult of that term to whatever it names.
Words matter. Yes, they can and do hurt and cause harm, especially when they lead to subjugation, oppression, bigotry, and prejudice.