While edging towards the notion that I probably have some obscure form of synaesthesia based on word visualisation, I’ve known for some time that different words have a powerful effect on me. Not in some magical or quasi-spiritual sense, but in a way that simply places strong limits on how I use them.
For instance, I used to be very free and easy with using the word hate. “I hate aniseed flavour”, or “I hate people that cut me off in traffic”, or “I hate that person” … it was actually a word that I commonly dropped without much consideration to it.
But on a re-reading of Covenant (Steven Donaldson), I abruptly found myself being very careful about using hate as a pejorative, because hate switched in my head and I suddenly had an image associated with it, and it wasn’t a nice one.
In Covenant, a fantasy series, there’s a race of creatures called Ur-Viles. As you may imagine from their name, for the most part they play a negative role, at least in the first three books, and they have a peculiar form of magic. In order to attack, a group of them would assemble into a wedge, and a ‘loremaster’ at the very apex of the wedge would have a black bowl, and they’d channel their power in through that loremaster and fill the bowl with vitriol. A viscous black almost tar-like liquid, that was practically acidic in nature.
So on a re-read of Covenant, I envisaged that bowl of vitriol as actually being a bowl of hate. And now, for me, every time I think of the word hate I think of a bowl of nigh-overflowing vitriol in physical form.
It’s not a pleasant image.
And so I stopped using hate. If you talk to me, even on subjects that I’m passionate about you’ll find hate is a word I’ll largely shy away from. Random and brief things that used to result in me saying “hate” now normally end up getting referred to as annoyances. Things that I intensely dislike are typically expressed as loathing. For me, loathe is almost an emotionally neutral word – it allows me to express a strong disappreciation or dislike for something, without the emotional, vitriolic overtone of hate.
Personally, I think I’m better off for it. I know there’s whole legions of books written as to the degree that language and thought influence each other, but I can simply say that I’ve been far less judgemental of things since I stopped using the word hate. Stopping myself from using the word made me much more careful about using the thought, and vice versa. Net result – it’s very, very rare for me to ever hate anything or anyone any more. It’s equally why I rail against hate speech so much. I’m not just hearing or reading the words, I’m seeing them laced with vitriol. Those words rise up out of bowls of acid, spreading their poison to the reader or the listener, corrupting the minds of the people mouthing them, and taking a little from the world each time they’re used.
I know I’m better off without that.