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Warren Dixon: A word to the wise

 I’d like to have a word with you.


Words matter. Take my word on it.            


Mark Twain knew the value of words. “The difference between the almost right word and the right word,” Twain said, “is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”


Words can raise us up or pull us down. Words can heal or they can incite.


In the movie “The King’s Speech”, George VI struggles to find his voice and to say the words that will calm a nation. Winston Churchill, JFK, Martin Luther King, Franklin Delano Roosevelt — all changed the world through their words.


Hitler once wrote that “every great movement on this globe owes its rise to the great speakers and not the great writers.” Hitler used his words to divide, others used theirs to unite.  


During wartime, we routinely dehumanize the enemy with words. We call them Huns, Japs, Wops, Chinks, Gooks and worse. By the use of words, we find it easier to kill them.


Whoever said that “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” was a liar. We all know that words can sting. We all may or may not remember the hundreds of kind words said to us over a lifetime, but we cannot forget that one unkind one. 


If you don’t think words will hurt you, stick your head in a Fayetteville bar on a Saturday night and say something derogatory about the 82nd Airborne. And, while you’re at it, mention to them that you have First Amendment rights. 


Voltaire’s famous quote, “I don’t agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” doesn’t quite go far enough. Voltaire should have added, “but have enough sense not to ridicule the mothers of the Hell’s Angels at their annual get-together. “


Even with freedom of speech, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater if there’s no fire. That’s called having rights, but also responsibilities. And there are some words you are allowed to say that common sense, Christian values and just plain survival instinct dictate that you don’t say. Discretion is often the better part of valor.


Why else would your mother tell you to mind your mouth?


You have the perfect freedom to say “yes” when your wife asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” You have a Constitutional right to tell your boss what you really think of him, mention to the policeman what he can do with his ticket book and to lambaste the driver of the semi who pulled in front of you. But words can come back to bite you.


Sandra and I were playing tennis in the park one summer. A couple of teenagers were playing basketball while their mothers were lounging at the shelter. One of the teenagers started using some foul language, dropping some F-bombs. I suggested that he stop and he wanted to know what I was going to do about it. I told him I’d just call the police and he decided to finish his game quietly. I started to mention the incident to his mother, but decided she was probably where he heard the word in the first place.


But now I read that a North Carolina judge has just recently struck down a 98-year-old state ban on public profanity and ruled that cursing is protected by the Constitution. “It’s a victory for free speech,” said the lawyer representing the defendant. 


Does this mean I can walk into my favorite restaurant and begin cursing? Probably not, because words have consequences. I could preach about First Amendment rights all the while being escorted out of the premises. 


Does this mean that junior can say whatever he wants in the park from now on? Probably. But he will also have to be ready to accept whatever end result that comes from his use of profanity.


I can take the 890 words in this space and squeeze a laugh out of you or perhaps a tear. I can even make you think, although many of you have requested that I don’t, especially early in the morning. 


Words can pull your chain. I can mention buzz words like “evolution,” “Honest Abe,” “liberals” or “liquor” and get scathing emails before the day is out. Words have power. 


A columnist will often pull your leg to see if you are listening. I always go back to the column Jerry Bledsoe once wrote about cat farms and how their pelts could be harvested. This created a firestorm of calls and letters to the editor, which of course was what Jerry was looking for. 


Do I do this? Of course I do. Sometimes I just need to know if you’re still alive out there. And, sometimes I pay the consequences. Sometimes you get as mad as a herd of yellow jackets.


So what’s the word? Be careful with your words. You may have to eat them.


And that’s probably not the last word on the subject.