Words are powerful. They can drag us to our knees, fill us with joy and boost our spirits when we’re depressed. But words can also be powerless to the whims of people who believe they are doing right by dictating how we should use or view them.
Over the past fifty years, several words have become tarnished by misuse. These words, that were once useful descriptive words, are now banned or restricted.
When my kids arrived home from junior high last week, they yakked on and on about a school –not their school – changing the words to a favourite Christmas carol. According to this misguided institution, it was now inappropriate to sing: Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
All this silly fuss about a simple three-letter word that meant happy only made my kids and their friends hum the tune all day long and sing the original line louder than any other line, particularly when teachers were nearby, testing the murky banning waters to see what would happen.
Ironically, according to Wikipedia, the original line for Deck the Hall (not the current name Deck the Halls) was Don we now our bright apparel. Somewhere in the past two hundred years, someone had tried to add gaiety to the old version by inserting gay for bright. Obviously, they couldn’t predict the negative future this innocent little word would be cursed with.
In truth, if the school banning the word had gone about this in a proper manner, there would have been no controversy. They could have instructed the students to sing the original version of the carol instead of making a big deal out of the word gay. Or they could have kept the word and enlightened the children by giving them the original (proper) meaning of gay:
1. Happy and full of fun: gay laughter. 2. Bright-coloured; showy: gay decorations. (Canadian Intermediate Dictionary; 1979)
Also teachers should have encouraged students to use this word with these meanings in their writing. If every teacher did this, then our happy and bright word might return to us. There would be less negative connotation attached to the delightful little adjective.
Would it not be marvelous to reclaim this fun-loving word and make it acceptable for all to use instead of teachers disciplining students for saying it?
And the light-hearted fairies dressed in gay fashion danced the night away, singing the tunes of their ancestors.