Just a "Little" Word

  1. The author learns that some words she uses may be taken in a completely different light by other readers and how this applies to spoken language as well. She waxes on philosophical about thoughtful posting, and its connection to perception and professional practice.

    Just a "Little" Word

    We all grow up learning colloquial phrases. Most of us carry them as moments in our hearts of those we love, while other words move along with us, creating subtle verbal idiosyncrasies in our lives. The words I grew up with were odd grammatical positioning of "yet", such as "Are they closed, yet?" or discussing a "schnutterhoontz" which I still believe is some bastardized German word that I can't find on Google for "someone who chatters on about nothing in particular". While both of these are more entertaining than not, one word I realized I use in abundance is "little".

    Now, one might think this is a pretty harmless word. I thought so too until I came home from my honeymoon to work several years ago. Prior to my wedding my floor crew had thrown me a break room wedding shower. There was food, cake, and all of my glassware for my set. It was awesome, and I loved it. While I was away I sent my floor a thank you card, and went about my business. When I got back I noticed the card was hanging on the pegboard and, to my surprise, the word "little" had been highlighted and underlined. Now the sentence read as follows "Thank you so much for the little shower!" and then I went on about the staff and such. For a long time I was puzzled by why the word little had been picked out, and then it hit me, they were offended.

    For me the word little is endearing. It means intimate, secluded, sometimes cute, or comforting. What I realized is for others this word was more dismissive, lackluster, and involved a sense of less importance. One could say I read way too much into this situation, but it lends itself to a greater and larger topic: language is a vital portion of how you portray yourself.

    Language and Nursing

    I have been an AN member for well over six years or so, and I have read, and posted, many a topic. I have seen English as a second language posters get belittled for their lack of structure while ignoring the meaning or request of their post. On the other hand I have seen carefully worded topics about ridiculous expectations applauded. I have seen multi-degree, intelligent posters, degraded for use of a text speak or abbreviation. I have seen people go into tantrums over overly-direct posts, while completely missing the point of those too inundated with fluff words.

    All of these examples continue to prove to me that you are perceived on how you write. Like it or not.

    In nursing, we often think of our writing as merely "A&OX2, combative, in restraints. HR tachycardic in the 140's at times, currently on amio drip." However our writing is also our verbal language. Words we use in writing are also the words we use when we talk to our patients. While not necessarily our text speak, we use colloquial sayings, we tease patients about being a "schnutterhoontz" or we discuss that "little" party someone threw for us.

    I believe posting on forums, in particular AN because of its professional slant, gives us an opportunity to hone our writing, and in turn, our language ability. We have a chance to look at how we are perceived through writing, such as how often we are dismissed by other posters or how often they agree with us? How often do original posters come back with venom over something you posted? Now I am not saying you can't say how you feel, but are there ways to create a more professional and compassionate tone. Would you stand in front of your co-workers or patients and say the same sentence to them if they brought up the same topic? How would they react to this presentation?

    Through this article I have had to stop myself three times from using the word "little" out of context, well at least general context.

    Just food for professional and personal growth.

    Last edit by Joe V on Sep 10, '18
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    About Tait, MSN

    RN, MSN-Ed, with a mild addiction to personal, emotional growth.

    Joined: Jul '07; Posts: 2,594; Likes: 5,056

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  3. by   cav5
    Well said-I agree totally! It is funny how somebody comes to this idea that simple words can and do hurt-even when that is not what was meant. My "epiphany" so to speak was when students (I am currently a school nurse) would use the word "easy". It is a word that strikes hurt and anger in a lot of other kids who have not found whatever they were talking about "easy".

    I hate that word "easy" as most of the time it truly is not meant to offend anyone but has caused such hurt in a lot of my kids. My hackles raise whenever I hear it now and I usually respond with something like "that must be a talent for you, you should be proud. It isn't easy for everybody".

    It makes me wonder what other words might be out there that could cause damage-good post, great for discussion.
  4. by   criegel
    Tait-- the word you're looking for but can't find on Google is mispelled. It's Schnatterhund, which means "Chatter Dog"
  5. by   Tait
    Quote from criegel
    Tait-- the word you're looking for but can't find on Google is mispelled. It's Schnatterhund, which means "Chatter Dog"
    Thank you! I had a feeling our family was just saying it all weird as families do
  6. by   gonzo1
    You are so right. Thanks for sharing. Another important point about the "written" word is to be careful what you write, and how, because people are reading it and not able to see your face, which adds an important dimension to words. I learned this the hard way with a dear friend. Fortunately the friendship is almost completely repaired.
    If I have something really important to say I now make it a point to meet with the person personally. Written things can be misunderstood far to easily.
    Of course on AN we can't meet.
  7. by   1feistymama
    Excellent post, Tait. And I second Gonzo1...since you lose body language and voice inflection, the written word is quite important and folks should be conscientious of how easily it can be mistaken. I've taken MANY communication courses both through work and in college and no matter how many I take, there's no one correct answer. It's a given that messages will be received poorly at times but if we choose our words wisely, we better our chances that they will be taken well.

    Because I make an effort to sound professional in my communication at work and online, I end up taking that communication style home and it backfired on me recently when at a friends house. Spanish is their first language and they are a bit self-conscious about their English. They were only half-joking when they claimed I dumb down my speech for them. That's not the intention! I think there was a bit of truth to the comment but I wouldn't call it dumbing down. I choose my words carefully to ensure I use smaller, common words, with them rather than 3 and 4-syllable words that might be more descriptive but that's because they may not be as familiar with those. I don't think they were taking offense. They were just poking fun. But I found myself scrambling to think of something for which I could poke fun at myself and in turn make them look superior for that particular trait.

    The visit was a good one and we had a lot of laughs but that moment kind of stuck with me. One of those "damned if you do and damned if you don't" kind of situations. I think we constantly have to assess our current audience and tailor our communication style accordingly.

    On forums, I prefer to be more professional.....one of you may be my hiring manager some day!
  8. by   sharpeimom
    One word that I hear too much around here is basically. "Well, basically what I plan to do is to basically put in an herb garden. Basically it will involve a basic digging job below the basic dirt level." And on and on and on and on and .... for the 20 (it seemed ENDLESS!) or so minutes we stood in the grocery line waiting to check out. AAARRRUUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!
  9. by   nurseprnRN
    In addition to being a nurse I am an editor; I spend too much unpaid time worrying a bad sentence or paragraph the way a dog (perhaps a Schnatterhund) worries a bone, trying to make it something it isn't. I abhor bad writing because it so often bespeaks lazy thinking. I'm not going to be mistaken for the nursing world's answer to Hemingway or Asimov, but I do try my best.

    You are right, there's far too much very bad writing on AN (and yes, I give ESL speakers a pass on that judgment). Alas, it's the same in every public forum. If I could wave the magic wand they took away from us when we graduated, it would be to wipe bad writing from the face of the planet. That would remove considerable occasions for wry laughter, but I could live with that if I didn't have to keep murmuring, sotto voce, "Oh, sweet lord, didn't you take 8th-grade English?" or "How the bloody hell did you get a graduate degree?"
  10. by   chrisrn24
    I, too, use big words frequently, and sometimes people don't know what they mean. The other day a coworker and I were talking and I was saying that so-and-so is "passive aggressive." My coworker asked what that means...I thought everybody knew that.
  11. by   Mulan
    A little off topic, but I worked in a military hospital (as a civilian) and the military charge nurse
    who had to have had at least a BSN could not spell!

    It was unbelievable, the misspellings in the mail messages she would send out.
  12. by   lorirn58
    Yep and another overused word is "actually"....sheesh!!!
  13. by   lorirn58
    Well a lot of bad writing, poor use of punctuation, poor word usage, misspellings, and ignorance about how to use a homonym/homophone, etc, etc come from the dumbing down of primary education in the 1980s. SMH
  14. by   lifelonglearner23
    Tait - I really enjoyed your little article and some advise you gave on another topic. Keep sharing with us