On Abusing Words

A couple of weeks ago I had myself a nice little rant here about people saying sorry without thinking what the word means.  Today I once again realised how easily people can just throw around words without caring what they’re really saying.

I came into my office today to find two identical faxes from the same person lying on my desk.  Both carried a cover page saying, in very big letters, “URGENT FACSIMILE”.  Naturally, I picked them up before I had even put down my briefcase because here was something urgent that needed to be dealt with immediately.  Guess what it was?  No, really, guess?  It was a form to be filled in by next year’s Math teachers, containing all their contact details and data regarding experience and qualifications.  And I thought to myself, we are getting a new Math teacher next year.  He hasn’t even started at the school yet.  How is that urgent, now, in November, a week before schools close for the Christmas holidays?  And this particular person always does this – every fax, every e-mail is urgent, even if the due date for reply is still two months off.

Doing something like this cheapens the word.  When I see that fax cover page with the word ‘URGENT’ I leave it in my inbox, letting other stuff accumulate on top of it, because it’s not really urgent.  Of course the problem is when something urgent does come along it won’t be dealt with in time because I won’t take the word seriously.  It’s comparable to the story of the boy who cried ‘wolf’.  How many other words are there that people abuse like this to get attention?  All that happens is that other people stop paying attention when you use that word.  What happens when you really need them to pay attention?  What then?