As I tottered around the Palatial Horvath Estate making preparations to confront Tropical Storm Sandy a/k/a Hurricane Sandy a/k/a “The Storm Of The Century” a/k/a FRANKENSTORM, I thought about labels.

What if the storm hadn’t been called anything at all? What if all the weather forecasters had said was “It’s going to rain more than you would believe and be incredibly windy”. Would people have taken it seriously? Did the fact that we kept hearing “Hurricane” and “FRANKENSTORM” make a difference?

I think it did.

In other words, labels matter. What we call something matters. What we call another person matters.

I am often mocked when I get frustrated at the use of a misleading label or identification. I can’t help it – I’m a word person. When words are used in a misleading fashion, it irks me. But I have to say that the main reason I get angry is because the label applied to something or someone determines how we think about that thing or that person.

A word is already an interpretation of a concept. When we label something, we are identifying it. The label we choose influences how people think about it. The beauty of the English language is that there a lot of different words meaning approximately the same thing, but with different nuances or feelings associated with them. Thus if we say “Hurricane Sandy” or “Storm of the Century” we get a much different impression than if we say “Rain Storm Sandy.”

“Rain Storm Sandy” is accurate. It rained. A lot. But that label doesn’t have the same impact as “Storm of the Century Sandy”.

We can’t help labeling – labels are tools we need when we’re communicating with others. But we can think about the labels we using.

Labels matter. Word choice matters.

Words have power.

Let us all use them wisely.


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