Precision with words

Tessa and Reed are on the road to becoming literate. I try to make sure that the reading material that comes within range of their eyeballs is suitable, but I can’t control all the words in the world.

You would think street signs would be innocuous, but think again.

Here are just a few of the signs we see as I drive them between home and school:

I have written about this before. But it comes up again this time of year when churches and schools and TV news programs ask us to “adopt” a family during the holidays, which typically means to give them gloves and coats and toys and maybe even some meals.

Shouldn’t we say what we mean, write what we mean?

Adoption is forever. It’s permanent. If we’re talking about taking care of a family’s needs for a month or even a year, or of picking up litter on a street for a year or two, why can’t we more appropriately use the word, “sponsor”?

“Sponsor-A-Street” and “Sponsor-A-Trail” and “Sponsor-A-Family” are more accurate phrases.

And they don’t diminish the experience of forever families.

What do you think?

17 thoughts on “Precision with words”

  1. Interesting take. I’ve never thought of it that way. You just have that thing of making me think of things differently.

  2. As an adopted child who grew up in the age of “Adopting” everything from families for the holidays to roads, it never bothered me. I knew that my adoption was different and permanent, unlike these other forms of adoption. Our adopted pet was a great way for my parents to really drive home the point of how special adoption was for a family. Being able to actively participate in bringing home a helpless being and making them a part of our family with care and love was a wonderful learning tool.

  3. Words are so powerful and we become desensitized to the different shades of meaning.I thought about this when I talked about adopting my pets and I realized that it felt weird given the context of family adoption.It reminds of how inadequate our language can be.Great post. Thank you also for your support and abiding and I will stop over to see your friend. Please be sure and tell the kids I think their Mom Totally Rocks!!!

  4. Interesting, I have never thought about it this way before. I’m with Marge, though, I think that it presents an opportunity to discuss semantics. Because I’m a word nerd, I don’t mind doing it that way. I would present it to Evie as 1. here is what adoption is in the context of parents and children and 2. it can also mean to “add” something, as when an organization “adopts” a new set of rules, for example and 3. it can also mean to take care of something, as when a person or organization “adopts” a street. By the time kids are old enough to read the word “adopt” I would think they’d be old enough to understand that idea, but then again I’m not a mom to a grade schooler yet and I have never taught grade school except as a sub, so I’m not an expert on what kids that age can and can’t understand!

  5. I thought this was a great post and a reminder that while some people won’t think twice while looking at those signs, others will internalize the message sent when we apply a permanent term to an impermanent situation.

  6. Honestly, I didn’t recognize what was wrong with the signs. I was expecting some sort of naughty word — Wanker Heating and Plumbing or something.As someone who thinks of herself as a social constructionist, I’d better start paying more attention!Thanks for pointing out what should be obvious. I will be on the lookout now.

  7. I completely agree. I’m sure you have a bit of explaining to do. better yet, why not write a letter to the editor of your local paper, or the city and ask them to change the signs?

  8. Hey, you live where I grew up. :)And I belong to an organization that, um, sponsors a road in that area.They are old enough to understand that what your family values so much is not the same as the charitable acts of the same name. They will pick up quickly on the concept that sometimes words are commonly used in an inaccurate way and a lot of words have multiple usages/meanings. For example they may say “I love chocolate” understanding that it is different than when you tell them you love them. And if your kids are as intrigued by word play as mine, one day you’ll find yourself having to explain things like the difference between having convictions and being convicted.

  9. Some very good points in the comments, but Lori, I have to agree with your take. Sometimes, words are all we have and I think all too often people misplace or misuse them without understanding the meanings that others can put into them. As an adoptee, I can’t honestly say I was bothered by the adopt-a-road signage, but as a cancer survivor, the overuse of those words drive me nuts. It’s incredibly prevalent in sports – “they have totally got to get rid of T.O. He’s a cancer to the team…” is the phrase I heard over and over and over again yesterday. In other news, thank you so, so much for your love and your loving messages. And YES. I am absolutely interested in the contact info you have to share with me. xo

  10. Another adoptee here who has never been bothered by it. I don’t make the connection at all between adopting a road and being adopted.English is a funny language with many words that have mutliple meanings.

  11. Absolutely. The use of adopt in this case is misleading and minimizes the permanence of it for families. I am so glad you pointed that out because I didn’t immediately think about the use of the word on the signs either.

  12. I’ve never thought about it. When I looked at the pictures, I too wondered what was “wrong” with the signs. It is a lesson in semantics. The good thing is that it gives you the opportunity to talk about the various meanings of the words. My kids may soon be adopted by my husband, their step-father. They will have the benefit of being my biological children and his adopted children. I figure it’s the best of both worlds.Thanks for your wonderful insight…again.

  13. I’ve never thought of that before, and I’m a part of a forever family myself…funny that…I’m with you though, and think we should start a campaign to change things from “adopt-a-whatever” to sponsor.I do know that the kids will realize the difference, and they know that the meaning when applied to families is totally different than the way most people think of things. Besides, with you as their mom, how could they possible think differently?

  14. I love reading the world through others eyes and gaining a new perspective. You are awesome Lori. And – yes – now that my eyes are open, that is something I’d chat about with my kids.

  15. @Marge and @Karen: good point. In addition to wanting my children to use precise words, I also want them to not be too sensitive when others don’t. I DO want them to love words and love to play with them (geek that I am).@Luna: yes.@Jaymee, @Andy, @M: I very much appreciate your viewpoints. Thank you.@Lollipop: one reason I had such a hard time writing this post was that I felt both ways about it and felt conflicted about that. You nailed it.@Martha, @Chicklet, @Cara, @Kork: *blushing*@Cassandra, @Michelle, @Kristin, @Shelby: I appreciate your support.@Sheri: great news!

What say you?