I was watching the news the other day, and the word “kerfuffle” came up. I knew I had heard it before, but its meaning escaped me — ruining any chance of knowing what the rest of the report was really about.
My mental dictionary conjured “explosion,” as I used my thinking cap to recollect the word and its meaning. I filled in the blanks in the news I had missed with my word and created a whole new story much worse than the real one, thank God!
The word means “a commotion or fuss” not “explosion.” I was so happy to learn that there wasn’t a bomb and shook my head about how lame I can be sometimes. It did get me thinking, though, about words and their meaning and how different a story can be if mistaken.
I’ve never been known to stop and think before I speak, and until I started writing this column I’ve never really found it necessary — although it’s a terrible trait that has bit me in the butt plenty of times in my life. My mouth is now quasi-tempered and tame, as I’ve not only reached the age of 57 and have almost learned my lesson but I also now have time for a re-write before my deadline on Fridays.
Words, depending on tone, can mean more than one thing. They can hurt and demean, wound or embarrass, rip another’s soul to shreds through thoughtless venting and selfish anger. They can shape a life, or expose an injustice, bring tears to your eyes or honor a comrade. They can cause hate or love or even both at the same time.
So tricky they are in their steadfast meaning when you can bend them at will and make them perform.
A couple of summers ago, a neighbor’s boy came back from camp and was more the miserable from his experience. When I asked him why it was so bad he told me that the kids at camp had called him a “Jew” all week and nobody would even talk to him. I then asked him what he thought the word Jew meant. He looked at me like I was an idiot and almost yelled “the devil, a Jew means the devil”. After I told him that a Jew is just a person who believes in God in a different way than someone else ... that to be Jewish is just another kind of religion and that I was a Jew. He was stunned.