Happy Watermelon Everybody!
I hope you had fun this week with the “watermelon” assignment. I meant it to be a fun introduction, but I promise, I did have a point.
Here are some of my observances of the week:
- To begin with, I often used the word in its proper context and it evoked an image of a reddish, pinkish, black and green melon.
- Over a couple of days I began to use it out of context, just to use it more.
- Repetition began to turn it into just a series of sounds, no longer evoking a particular image.
- By the end of the week, I was using this series of sounds to stand in for other words.
- There was also a lot of laughter and the word took on a meaning I did not expect as it began to connect me to the people around me.
I think you might have had some similar experiences and I hope you share them with me.
I have a slight confession to make: I kind of already knew what might happen. There have been a load of people studying this linguistic phenomenon for literally decades. If you would like to follow the rabbit trail about it, here is an interesting article on that history: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2833
The short version (meaning the one that doesn’t take you on a rabbit trail and down a rabbit hole into the wandering rabbit warren that will leave you wondering why you spell the word and “a-n-d”) is that one version of this phenomenon is called Semantic Satiation.
Semantic Satiation is “when a word loses its meaning (temporarily) because of constant repetition, visually or verbally” (https://psych2go.net/semantic-satiation-repeated-words-turn-gibberish/ accessed 12-7-2019).
So, why did I take you on this little vacation to utterly destroy the original meaning of the word watermelon? What does this have to do with Thankfulness or Gratitude?
The study of this phenomenon has focused on the loss of meaning after the repetition of a word several times a second for several minutes (you are welcome to try it…I’ll wait), but I believe that it happens in a much more subtle way when we repeat a word or phrase over and over as a cultural expectation.
“Thank you” or “I appreciate it” has become our cultural “watermelon”.
We have warm fuzzy feelings attached to it and it connects us to others sometimes, but those feelings are vague and the connections fleeting. We have perverted the meaning of the words by over-use and misuse. It’s time to take “Thank you” back.
Over the next two weeks we are going to slowly take our temperature, so to speak, on the “Thank you” front. This week will be personal.
Here is our assignment:
Use your notebook to keep a tally of the number of times you say “Thank you” or “I appreciate it” during each day. It doesn’t have to be exact, just try to keep a count. At the end of the week write one sentence to yourself about what you think you mean most of the time when you say “Thank you”. Remember when you write it that you are not trying to impress anyone with a perfect definition or intention. Like I said before, you are taking a temperature. You are looking seriously at where you are in your own use of gratitude and the words associated with it not where you want to be or where you think I want you to be.
I hope you will join me in this. (Remember perfectionists, no one is grading this assignment)