The Use and Abuse of Words
Over the holiday period, a friend of mine proudly told me about how well her adopted daughter was settling down into her new life in England. ‘I’ll have to get her nationalised at some point,’ she said with a serious nod of her head. I burst out laughing, gently pointing out she probably meant naturalised. It reminded me of another friend who planned to liquidise all her assets before emigration and of course we’ve all heard of people ‘casting nasturtiums’ on someone. If not, you’ve not lived J
As a rule, people don’t use malapropisms to be funny or as a literary device. They pop up in ordinary speech even by one distinguished politician who managed to make a dog’s dinner out of one of the biggest events in recent British history; Welsh Conservative leader Andrew Davies, encouraged the Conservative party conference to make breakfast (i.e. Brexit) a success. (See reference below).
However this piece isn’t about stumbling over words (I still can’t say anemone). It’s about something more serious and that is labelling people especially incorrectly.
I’ve become interested in this aspect of descriptive language with the plethora of articles and videos about the suspected/alleged/no doubt about it (not my words) Narcissism of Donald Trump. I am neither defending him nor promoting him. This about not about politics, it is about the wrong and lazy use of language.
Only a clinician who has properly assessed an individual using the correct diagnostic tools can use such a term and it’s not for public guzzling. It is not something for the press or arm chair psychologists to nod their heads and say.. Well it’s so obvious. He fits the criteria… etc. Maybe some of the behaviours might resonate with such a diagnosis but the point is this…. Imagine your son demonstrated some signs of Asperger’s syndrome but you knew that, yes, maybe there were some traits but some layperson decided that’s who he was and treated him according to the stereotype. How would you feel? I would go nuts. Poor Baron Trump has already had this ticket stuck on his ten year old forehead by the press and you tubers.
We all have narcissistic traits as a tiny piece of our make-up but we can’t use such sweeping statements about people, groups of people, organisations and governments as a clinical term when we are not experts. It’s nonsense and dangerous. Even if there is evidence that it applies to 99% of people it’s unfair to the remaining 1%.
We can comment on a) the behaviour of those individuals/people and provide evidence eg. I think you are X because you did (X) on more than one occasion and b) how their behaviour makes us feel. I am careful to substantiate my statements and claims and am prepared to back them up if challenged but I would hope people have enough common sense to see that damning somebody in this way, especially someone we only know from the media, with no knowledge and no experience of the various facets of their personality is unacceptable. It’s also potentially a defamation of character.
Then we wander into the murky area of free speech. You will say you have the right to say what you like but free speech shouldn’t mean dangerous speech. It shouldn’t set out to hurt or destroy people. If it does then it says more about the sender than the receiver of those words. Careless talk can cost livelihoods, careers, families, safety, security and even lives and it could be yours (or mine) from the backlash.
Isn’t it best to think first before calling people a narcissist or toxic or whatever word is the flavour of the day and ask yourself these two questions. Am I qualified to make such damning statements about anybody’s core self? Do I want anybody doing that to me?
And before you rifle angrily through your box of sticky labels, for something to fit me, whom you don’t know but might be having a knee jerk reaction to on reading this, then please reflect on this truth. I am simply looking out for humans who might be hurting from someone's careless use of language.
I wish you peace, calm and prosperity for 2017.
To find out more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder visit the website of Sam Vaknin. His book, Malignant Self Love, Narcissism Revisited is an eye opener.