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#366225 - 07/19/11 04:14 PM The Power of Nouns
CruxFidelis Offline

Registered: 06/16/10
Posts: 486
Loc: NJ–-tiny-word-change-increases-voter-turnout/

It's a story profiling a study that shows that 20-something are more likely to vote if a promotional statement uses the phrase "be a voter" rather than "vote." Using a predicate noun to describe a person, seems to have more power over the reader than using an action verb, even though it makes English teachers like me cringe a little bit. Using active verbs whenever possible makes your writing much more crisp and elegant, passive verbs and excessive use of nouns make your paragraphs look cluttered and messy, like the literary equivalent of an episode of "Hoarders."

I bring this article up because on this site, we use the word "survivor" to describe ourselves a lot. We also use words like "victim." I don't like labels, and while I have used the title "survivor" about myself I don't think it actually describes the person I am. I personally prefer saying "Someone sexually assaulted me" or "I was raped." I spend a lot of time in therapy looking at how a single life event has affected my entire life. But really, it is a single event. It is over. I prefer using the active verb because it keeps the rape in the past, rather than being a label that stays with me in the present and in the future.

Second, when we use predicate nouns to describe future behaviour (“to be a voter”), we not only reflect on our qualities, but on the qualities of the people we could be. These words offer a vision of a future identity that’s up for grabs. And voting, regardless of whether people do it or not, is generally seen as positive and worthy – it’s something that people feel they should do. “Using noun-based wording to frame socially valued future behaviour allows individuals, by performing the behaviour, to assume the identity of a worthy person,” writes Bryan.

Obviously sexual abuse is not the positive sort of thing the scholars in the article are talking about. But the phrase, "survivor," seems to put the most positive spin on it, emphasizing the fact that the victim survived, as if that somehow made him better than someone who did not. Although I suppose the phrase "survivor" carries a lot of meaning to other men here who have gone through rape or other kinds of sexual abuse.

I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that my assault happened before I went through the process of defining my own identity... whereas a lot of men here were abused before that point in their lives. It's just not a part of what I always knew about myself.

“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”

- Saint John of the Cross

#366228 - 07/19/11 04:45 PM Re: The Power of Nouns [Re: CruxFidelis]
ACRoberts Offline

Registered: 08/07/10
Posts: 242
Loc: New Jersey (recently moved fro...
Even though our experiences are very different (mine taking place about 50 years ago), I can totally relate. I have started using the phrases: "my uncle sexually abused me" and "he raped me" it makes me feel less a victim for some reason. It also helps me separate who I am now from who I was then. At times, I fall into the feeling that I am still that little boy of six. He raped me then, but he cannot control my life now.

Thanks for helping me clarify this!

WOR Sequoia 2011--it has changed my life!


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