Let’s Retire the Word “Passionate”

queenThey have assisted living homes for the elderly, which sounds wonderful in theory unless you’re “the elderly.” From the inside you feel “assisted” with being locked away — sometimes even forgotten. While this is a bad thing for human beings, it would be a wonderful thing for certain words.

You know, words in their dotage. Getting on words. And words that have outlived their usefulness due to excessive use… one might even say “abuse” (and one just did). In this case, no one will feel bad for the locked away and out of sight words because, well, at least they are enjoying “assisted living” (I picture connotations wheeling about denotations, for instance).

As leader of the used-to-death (whoops, shouldn’t mention that term) words, I nominate passionate. I’ve been seeing more than I want of passion lately. So much, in fact, that its original meaning is muted due to its ubiquity. It’s like taking a highlighter to a book so many times that what’s NOT highlighted stands out. What’s the point, in other words?

The use and abuse of passionate is especially evident on Twitter accounts. Go ahead. Skim some 140-character or less bios. Everyone’s passionate: “passionate about teaching,” “passionate about my work,” “passionate about my family.”

Well, geez, I hope so. If you’re not passionate about your work, get out. And if you can’t muster any passion about spouse and kids, how obviously sad. Why the advertisement, then? Do you think we suspect otherwise? And if we do, what does that say about you?

Checking my Merriam-Webster, I see that the word passion “applies to an emotion that is deeply stirring or ungovernable (developed a passion for reading).”

Okey-dokey, then.

In the play within the play that is Hamlet, Shakespeare has the Queen say to her son, Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” This expression has been twisted into “Methinks he [or she] doth protest too much!” these days — an idiomatic expression signifying guilt.

With overused words like passion, the opposite holds true: it’s not so much a sign of guilt as a sign of unnecessary and suspicious self-aggrandizement. If you have to announce to the world how “passionate” you are, shouldn’t the world suspect your passion?

We can save ourselves such embarrassment by simply retiring the word.

Go ahead. Lop it from your bios on social networking sites. We get it. We’re all passionate about life or else we’re frauds. If you feel the need to advertise, stop a minute and look in the mirror. Gaze into your own eyes. Ask, “Why?”

There you go. Free of the word if not the spirit, you’re ready to dig back into what you care about in life. Actions do speak louder than words — especially when the words have gone off to Sunny Farms where Arts & Crafts class is held at 3 o’clock.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Retire the Word “Passionate”

  1. I vehemently, passionately, or actually just moderately, agree with you about retiring words. Some very useful and aged words are regularly succumbing to euthanasia by the word physicians. Who is forcing the right to die on them? Just let them live in comfortable retirement and slip into hobby writing to keep busy. Their ashes are swept from the back of the lexicographic book of life while illegitimate slangography is recorded into the front of it for charity sake of inclusion to appease the vocabularianly challenged. To be politically sympathetic, I wouldn’t stifle the newborn idioms or kill the old-timers. I would just let the babes grow for twenty-one years to see if they eventually mature to responsible adulthood as did their fore-bearers before them or slip into obscurity. To prove my point, I refer to the massive record of mutterings from far past centuries that are no longer known to us. Oh, that’s right, no one bothered to keep the record or keep using them. With that sampling of semantics, I make exception and nominate the word “semantic” be injected with truth serum or put into an induced coma. Smiley emoticon here.

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