09 October 2009

Words are sticks and stones

The commonsense saying that sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never harm you is not at all true. Words are just as harmful as sticks and stones, and writers - being stewards of language - know that best. Even in the non-literary world, words are deadly.

Take the way most Italians today use the word "Filippina" (the feminine form of the word "Filipino," referring to someone born in the Philippines). According to TIME Magazine, the word "Filippina" to Italians means "cleaning woman." Some years back, Filipinos raised a howl when the Oxford English Dictionary defined "Filipina" as "nanny" and a Greek Dictionary defined "Filipineza" as "maid." Today, there are unconfirmed reports (probably and hopefully untrue) that some South Korean tourists in Manila refer to Filipinos (not just Filipinas) as "monkeys." A hundred years ago, American soldiers invading the Philippines loudly called Filipinos "monkeys with no tails."

Italians, British, Greeks, Koreans, and Americans may think the words harmless, but Filipinos take these words to heart, as indeed they should be taken. This is why words are important, whether in real life or even more especially in literary works, where words are forever.

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