Principal's Blog - 12 July - Words Matter


There is no doubt that Words Matter

By Karen Spiller

12 July 2017

Recently, I have read a number of articles in which the writers lament that girls and women use the terms "just" and "sorry" too much."   It is hard to imagine powerful women whose actions changed the world or inspired others using these apologetic and moderating words.

An article by Heather Libby asserts that "saying 'sorry' when it isn't necessary is so common that a shampoo company made an advertisement ( about it. Researchers also say using the word risks taking responsibility for faults and actions that aren't our own — or aren't even faults. Being mindful of when we apologize — and where and how — is good advice regardless of gender or workplace.

The use of "just" is a little more complicated. Some women, like former Google executive Ellen Leanse, believe that adding "just" to statements gives other people more authority and control and makes the speaker seem defensive. As she wrote on her blog: "It hit me that there was something about the word I didn't like. It was a 'permission' word, in a way — a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking, 'Can I get something I need from you?'"

Exploring this idea of weakening the power of our words reminds me that as adults, we need to teach our girls to speak with confidence.  My teaching experience with girls shows that some girls undermine themselves through their words and actions, saying "I'm not sure if this is right but …". Girls also use phrases like "kind of" or "sort of" or "like" to weaken their statements, or turn a statement about something they know into a question as if they are not sure of their answer.

Let's look at some quotes from famous women with a few sorries, kindas, sort ofs, likes and justs thrown in. They are no long inspiring and their impact considerably lessened.

I just kinda think that knowing what must be done does away with fear sort of …  Sorry." (not Rosa Parks)

Sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to let you know I didn't get there just by wishing for it or like kinda hoping for it, but by working for it. Sorry" – (not Estée Lauder)

It took me quite a long time to develop like a voice, and now that I sort of have it, I am not like going to be silent. Sorry (Not Madeleine Albright)Sorry, I'm not sure this is right but I just think that above all, be the like heroine of your life, not the victim. Sorry" – (not Nora Ephron)

Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In Foundation states that "verbal crutches" like these can "hinder a girl's ability to share her ideas clearly and confidently - a habit that often carries over into adulthood". However, when women speak confidently, take risks and own their accomplishments, they set a powerful and positive example for girls to follow.