I get the giggles every so often. It’s usually over something that just gets me at a moment when it shouldn’t. I was infamous for getting the giggles live on air when I was at the BBC. I’m ashamed to say that I snorted with laughter in the rather over-blown death scene of the film Cyrano de Bergerac. And I was unable to sing on one occasion because of my over-developed sense of the ridiculous when someone sang loudly. And wrongly.
This week my phone made me laugh. I was trying to respond to a message on social media and for some reason best known to itself, my phone’s autocorrect changed the word ‘morning’ to the words ‘nit bunnies.’ For a while there was a running joke on my Facebook page as we all said ‘Good Nit Bunnies’ to each other all across the world.
I mean, what even IS a Nit Bunny? No idea. But for a while the ‘Nit Bunnies’ gag united a whole load of people who don’t really know each other, but have a common friend in me. It made people laugh.
Comedy often unites. Language often divides. On this occasion a mixture of both caused some smiles around social media.
Language is a funny old thing. While there might be one English language, there are different dialects, words that only mean something to people in one area of the UK or the world. And even when English is your first language, there’s a whole load of words that don’t make sense. As the old poem says, if the plural of brothers is brethren, why is the plural of mothers not methren? Or why, if mouse becomes mice, does house not become hice? Although ‘hice’ does sound a bit like a member of the Royal Family referring to their home…
As the American writer Doug Larson said: ‘If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.’
It’s no wonder that it’s hard to make yourself understood sometimes. Language can limit us in its lack of clarity. Sometimes an inability to articulate what it is you actually want to say can cause offence or hurt or frustration. Basil Fawlty once yelled at the hapless Manuel, ‘Please understand before one of us dies.’ That was funny at the time.
And yet words can do so much harm. It’s never been so obvious that the old phrase ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me’ is actually nonsense. Words do hurt. There are people self-harming and taking their own lives because words have hurt them so much. There are young people who suffer from anxiety and critically low self-esteem. And whole sections of our communities feel alienated because of what they are called and how they are perceived.
The language of hate is a strong one. It can be overpowering and leave us feeling helpless in the face of its sheer venom and yet, words can do so much to heal and warm and love. When did we last say something loving or encouraging to someone outside or even inside of our circle of family and friends? What stereotypical words do we use to describe others that would be best left unsaid? The words of peace and love might sound a bit 1960s hippyish, but never have they been so needed as now.
Please. Try and understand before one of us dies…