The following is an unedited transcript for Season 1, Episode 9 of my podcast, Written, Spoken, provided to help all of my readers and listeners — especially those with hearing disabilities or for whom English is not a primary language — access and enjoy the content of each and every episode. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or other platforms here.
Do You Say ‘Cool’ or ‘Chill’? Or, How Language Moves
[00:00:02] Hey. This is Dave Ursillo, and welcome to Written, Spoken. This is Episode 9, the penultimate episode of season one of my new podcast. If you’re new here Written, Spoken is a podcast with a simple premise: bringing the written word to life as the spoken word for the voices of the writers who wrote them.
[00:00:22] Season 1 revolves around my written words since I am after all a writer and this is also my podcast. This 10 episode season features 10 recent newsletters that I’ve written and published for my online readership. You can subscribe there for free by DaveUrsillo.com/Newsletter if you like what you hear. That’ll entitle you to get one human interest story or personal narrative essay like those you’re listening to in your inbox once every other week or so and probably three to six months in advance of you hearing them here.
[00:00:53] As for this podcast, there are only two episodes left in the season. Season two will be a little different featuring some of my favorite essays and stories from the last decade of my writing journey, including reader favorite highlights, powerful personal revelations from life on and off the page, including some hard earned lessons from the self-employed life, and stories from my travels. Season 3 will feature the voices of other writers — some of whom you’ll know and may admire, others you’ll probably only just be discovering. And by the time season four of Written, Spoken rolls around you’ll have your own chance to submit your written words and stories in the spoken word format. Imagine hearing yourself bring your written words to life in your very own episode of Written, Spoken. That’s all what’s coming in the months ahead. Until then it’s time for Episode 9 and a perspective on language and human communication which I hold a very near and dear to my heart. Let’s get into the episode now. Happy listening.
[00:01:57] Dear friend. I remember the first time that I learned that language is not static or fixed but moves. That’s to say many of the words and phrases that we use to describe ideas or tell stories have this natural or organic way of evolving and changing over time. When I was a kid I thought that the evolving nature of language was something superficial; a pointless silly exercise that some people apparently felt was necessary but only seemed to complicate the ways in which we “all”, in air quotes, had agreed to already describe things.
[00:02:38] As I became a young adult I even thought that the changing ways that we quote-unquote “all” referred to let’s say groups of people based on matters of racial identity or sexual orientation or nation of origin were also some sort of contrived exercise in so-called political correctness, or what I now consider to be mythology, that certain terms and phrases and labels become forbidden from speech for arbitrary reasons by some governing body of intellectuals.
[00:03:09] Today, I know differently. Today, I understand that language moves as society moves today. I believe that the stories we tell which are contained within even single words or short phrases must evolve over time. If we are truly committed to making a better tomorrow for us all. If we want to live a news story we must tell our stories anew. Language moves because we move.
[00:03:46] I was in the sixth grade and my classmate Melanie — who was blonde and cute and very athletic and great at every sport at which she played — was telling a small group of us about a new word that she’d learned from her older brother. Since Melanie was one of only a few girls in my homeroom class (and since when I was twelve I had a romantic crush of some sort on every living human female of a relevant age), I too had a crush on Melanie and took extra care to pay close attention to everything that she said.
[00:04:18] I remember we were all hovering near our new still alien seeming lockers which no one even locked because we were all insisting on carrying all of our books around in our sweet L.L. Bean embroidered backpacks, and Melanie told us about this new word. “You say chill instead of cool,” Melanie explained, elaborating on these slightly different but still basically the exact same phraseology. “Like you say oh that’s chill. Instead of saying that’s cool you say chill instead but it means cool. It’s just like a cooler way to say cool.”
[00:04:53] Melanie was nothing short of thrilled to be the messenger of this new phrase that according to her we’d all be using very soon. Your older brother was named Josh. He was also blonde and had spiky hair and wore baggy jeans and skateboarder like one of those kids who were told not to by cops. He was also very athletic and was particularly good at basketball and lacrosse. He must have only been 14 years old at the time. There already more than six feet tall and seemed to me to be at least 19 or 20 one or 24 years old at the time. That is until I finally got to be 19 and 21 and 24 years old myself and realized that when you’re 14 years old you’re really really only ever just 14 years old. Nevertheless because 14 year old Josh thought a word like chill was going to become a big deal back then we all listened. Only that, I distinctly remember thinking to myself at the time, “That is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard.”
[00:06:01] I would never dare say to my crush Melanie let alone her cool and very tall older brother that she was wrong about anything. But in my head I was silently saying to myself, “We already have a word for cool and that word is cool. Why would we need another?” I didn’t understand many things when I was twelve, not the least of which included matters of coolness and culture and fads. Josh represented one of those older sibling ambassadors who fed invaluable data to the younger of his generation. He seemed to be a member of an impossibly far away world of knowledge and experience in which older kids knew stuff like what words were supposed to be cool now and did stuff like have parties or smoke pot or actually kiss or skateboard in CVS parking lots despite being told not to by cops. Back then, anyone who is older than me by even a single school grade seem to have lived forever longer. I automatically assigned them sage like wisdom on the basis of one year’s worth of having lived longer. I figured that anyone older than me must have had everything in life figured out.
[00:07:14] Back then, my greatest secret was hiding how little I felt I knew and how uncomfortable I was with all of my not knowing. No wonder why being introduced to a simple synonym for cool like chill felt so vexing for me. Twenty years ago long before I consider myself a writer or a lover of language and story, I didn’t understand that the words we choose are one of the most fundamental outlets of creative self-expression that humanity possesses. The fact that language moves is incredibly human. It speaks to humanity’s insatiable curiosity the desire to keep trying something new; the dedication to doing something that’s been done before but differently; the hunger to explore ways into alternative perspectives and experiences, rather than to just do what has been done before.
[00:08:12] When I was 12 years old I didn’t have a grasp on this creative nature of language or how meanings and feelings of different words can move over time, if only just for the fun and the creativity of it. But as I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that language moves not only for creativity sake but because the words and phrases that we use represent entire stories. Simple as they may seem, words and phrases contain within them entire emotional, psychological, and spiritual landscapes. They impart hold experiences. They evoke entire histories. They dictate possibilities. Words are like prayers; they broadcast a strong wide energetic message around what we think is true or false, real or unreal. Even unconsciously, when we don’t understand the power, the potential for hurt, or therepressive history of a word or phrase, the stories into which we speak energy and thus speak life can really affect fellow humans who are striving to live lives that are more full, more whole, and more true.
[00:09:29] When I was in the sixth grade I didn’t understand how the language we use — single words. turns of phrase, even how we construct whole sentences — contain far more than their dictionary definitions. In the sixth grade choosing to use a word like chill wasn’t so much a social statement as it was just trying to keep up with cooler older siblings and what words they decided were markers for being nouveau, and hip, and unconventional, and at the edge of culture. Today I understand that the stories we all choose to believe tell and share quite literally shape, affect, influence, and in some cases define the experience of life for fellow humans.
[00:10:16] A label for someone else’s racial or gender identity or for their immigration status or for their sexual orientation is not nearly as neat, tidy, polite, or convenient a descriptor as we might feel it is, or should be. Because every word, every label, every title, every phrase contains within it far more than its original meaning or intention. Words carry entire histories and philosophies and norms. The stories that they continue to write when spoken create whole landscapes of possibility and whole landscapes of impossibility. The stories we all tell whether or not we fully understand the power of those stories can dictate what reality becomes for people just on the basis of having told them. And yet there is no one governing body deciding what means what, when or why, as the mythology of so-called political correctness implies.
[00:11:30] In the truest sense of what democracy means, we the people quote-unquote “vote” on this ever evolving and constantly shifting nature of language on the basis of our choosing to use it. And just as well on the bravery of those who choose to stand up and express why and how old, antiquated stories are no longer relevant. Or that they hurt. Or that they have been wielded as tools of power and repression in the past and deserve to be ended now. Language moves because as time goes on and as culture and norms evolve our shared language must evolve with it. Our language is slow to catch up to the times; to the rising bar of expectations that we have as a society and what it means to be loving, inclusive and expansive. Words and phrases simply get aged out of relevance; they get aged out of accuracy, out of fairness, out of truth.
[00:12:38] The stories we tell begin to date themselves when we, humanity, learn and grow and heal and expand into greater wholeness truth and love. When we grow out of our shadows, out of darkness, out of fear. It is tempting and easy to sit back and think we already have a word for cool. It’s cool. Why would we need another?
[00:13:07] And yet language moves because antiquated norms and dated concepts and deliberately repressive ideas all of which are contained within small seemingly innocent words and phrases tell entire stories. Any story that has held back a whole group of people — sometimes for generations — has also held all of us back. As long as any group of human beings have remained less than fully expressed, less than whole, less than free, all of humanity has been worse for it. It is natural and normal for words and phrases and labels in our shared language to begin to feel dated old fashioned. No longer relevant of the times are so antiquated that their use now feels repressive disenfranchising simply hurtful to people.
[00:14:08] Language moves because we as people are always moving striving for what could be for what’s better healthier and fairer for us all. Our collective ideas of right and wrong, our understanding of what identity is and isn’t, our beliefs around what is quote-unquote “normal” and what should be, these are always moving to as individuals within a collective. We share language to connect to one another. Language exists for us to relate to and relate through one another’s experiences, identities, struggles, hopes, dreams, and fears. That’s why language exists at all to help us become closer to one another. And despite the impulse that some people may have as I once had when I was younger to blame an elusive mysterious governing body of so-called politically correct finger-wagers who don’t in fact exist about what they feel can or cannot be said at any given time.
[00:15:22] The reason that the words we use keep changing is because what those words represent in the ideas they embody in the stories they imbue no longer stand up to the test of time. Language moves because society moves and because culture moves and because people move and because language exists to help us survive together. That’s why the language we use is constantly moving; because we can and mean to do better. For everyone to feel more whole. To be less oppressed. To become more free. To ignite more of the inherent wisdom contained within us all so that we may evoke the full force of contribution and creativity and knowledge of humanity to benefit all of civilization and the world at large.
[00:16:19] Our language moves so that we may comfort and empathize and not just to say “I see you” but to do this seeing and to hold space for the witnessing with compassion and care and determination. The words we use represent the stories we believe and the stories we believe are constantly shifting and changing as our understanding of those stories that we have been telling shifts and changes and expands more consciously. When it comes to matters of identity or gender race or nation of origin sexual orientation or age or feelings of belonging or what it means to be truly inclusive are building a sense of community deeper than exists in other such matters of the heart… Is there any wonder about why and how language moves? We even have more than one word just for calling something, cool.
[00:17:35] That’s all for this week’s episode. And hey, if you’re a writer like me who cares about sharing thoughtful perspectives and constructive opinions on matters of social change, political issues, and much more, I might be able to help you shape the kinds of stories and essays that you’re looking to publish. Writer’s Group of Two is a bespoke one on one monthly coaching program that I offer to select clients. Only a handful at a time over periods of three or four or five months. A perfect blend of hands on help with your words and hands off trust and support that helps you autonomously and sustainably create the best writing you’ve ever created. Writer’s Group of Two provides you with personal support accountability and much more.
[00:18:17] I’ll help you deepen into your relationship to the written word, uncover the hidden qualities of voice that make your writing journey much more rewarding, and teach you key elements of persuasive storytelling that I’ve learned firsthand from my 10 plus years of professional writing.
[00:18:33] Whether you’re restarting a writing practice, reconnecting to your passion for creative self-expression, or feeling ready to finally untangle all of your creative desires, Writer’s Group of Two may be for you. Let’s, you and me, start a unique creative partnership where you’ll receive unparalleled seenness, extraordinary personal support and intimate creative collaboration with me, Dave Ursillo. Visit UnavoidableWriting.com/coaching.
[00:19:01] That’s UnavoidableWriting.com/coaching for more.
[00:19:07] We have an all new episode coming next week. Until then, I’m Dave Ursillo and this has been Written, Spoken.