the power of words

Earlier this week, a friend from my theatre days posted a link to a blog post on a website called The site is the creation of a Canadian woman named Danielle LaPorte, who is a writer, speaker, and a “strategic and intuitive business advisor.” Danielle writes and speaks from the heart, and the name of her blog is well chosen. She doesn’t mince words, and she has a powerful way of stringing words together so that they burn a searing path into your heart and mind.

She also uses some four-letter words here and there, and after posting a link to one of her posts that has a smattering of them, I suddenly considered whether the language she’d used might offend some of my readers. If you’ll look around my site, I tend to post inspiring quotes and articles that are somewhat spiritual in nature. They tend to be on the “warm and fuzzy” side…no strong language…so it occurred to me that perhaps some of my readers might be a little shocked by the difference in tone.

Between being a teacher and having been brought up not to use “cuss” words, I’ve always been very conscious of the use of profanity. Over the years, I’ve nixed the use of various songs in my jazz dance classes because of language, even though they had a really great groove, and I don’t like filmmakers, songwriters, etc. that gratuitously use four-letter words to demean or even just to be cool.  It’s not that I don’t have my own favorite four-letter words, but I’m very careful about how and when and with whom I use them. In the end, it comes down to context and intent.

I taught for ten years at a ballet school in North Carolina, which had an affiliate company that gave the advanced students valuable performing experience. One year, there was a student in the Christmas performance whose family were devout Christians. When told by one of the other dancers that it wasn’t appropriate to say “break a leg” for good luck (as they do in the theatre), she asked what she should say. The other dancer told her that, in the ballet world, the tradition is to say “merde”…which is a French word for a certain four-letter word. (I’ll let you look it up.  See? I’m still careful.)

One day, before dress rehearsal, the student asked me, “Well, I can’t say ‘break a leg’, and I can’t say ‘merde’ because it’s a bad word, so what am I supposed to say?” My response to her was that what makes a word a “bad word” is the way in which it’s used—the intent behind the word.  I think I used the example of the word “bad”…that it could actually mean bad or it could mean, in the modern slang use of the word, good or really cool.

In the context of the ballet world, merde is a good word because of the intent behind its use. The tradition/superstition is the same as that of “break a leg”….you say something “bad” or negative as a charm to ward off something bad actually happening during the performance. Walk outside the theatre and start wishing people “merde”, though, and you’ll probably get a different reaction—at least from those who understand French.

So…all of this is to say that I hope that no one here is offended by Danielle LaPorte’s use of the occasional four-letter word in getting her message across, because I’ll probably be posting a lot of her stuff here. She and I may have really different styles and use language in really different ways, but, like me, her aim is to inspire…and she’s already succeeded with me.


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