Power of Words: Plantation ≠ big farm

This post is third in a series of posts about David’s and my experiences in the Mississippi Delta. We had fun times, but as usual, we learned some unexpected things from people we met during our trip. One of Magnus’ long time and favorite clients is named Orman Kimbrough. Orman is a native of Greenwood, Mississippi, a lovely town in the Delta. (As an aside, when I first met Orman decades ago, I immediately noticed he had considerable Southern charm, which prompted me to inquire about his hometown. Orman is also a fine trial lawyer, but that’s another story!) I asked Orman for some pointers to ensure David and I would maximize our time in his home state and soon, he connected me with his cousin as well as one of his childhood friends, both of whom were extremely generous in helping me plan the trip. As it turns out, a friend of Orman’s is the owner of a very large farm. He and his wife took David and me out for dinner the night before we had arranged to tour the farm. I, in my south Florida awe of all things rural and agricultural, remarked how happy I was to be invited to tour “the plantation.” Instead of the pleased response I anticipated, I was politely provided with an education about how “plantation” has negative connotations and has fallen out of favor as a description of an extremely large farming operation. Here I was, thrilled at the prospect of spending time at a cotton plantation, when, in reality, I would be visiting a big farm! I soon realized what a faux pas I had made, but the point of this post is that words often have “loaded” meanings that are either widely known or known only to people within a limited area. I have a lot to learn and I appreciate Orman, his cousin, and his friends for educating me about important cultural norms in the Mississippi Delta.

Sometimes it is the “little” surprises that happen while traveling that are the most memorable.  I, too, found the plantation/big farm revelation mind opening.  It is also a reminder about the evolution of language.  The “de-sexisming” of language seems to have mostly evolved.  Gone are mailman, stewardess, chairman of the board, replaced with the gender neutral letter carrier, flight attendant, board chair.  These took time, but at least in the US, these new words have taken hold.  But, travel has also taught me that, even with the same language, words are used differently.  English may be English, but, my year in Australia opened my eyes to the reality that the English language is not universal.  Even to a native English speaker who knows the difference in their/there/they’re, words can surprise.  Not long after arriving in Sydney I heard someone say “touch wood” in the way I would say “knock on wood” – touching or knocking meant the same, but it was enough of a subtle difference to get my attention.  Similarly, the parts of a car were not a hood/trunk in Oz, but as in England, a bonnet and boot.  There were many other words which were different in that different cultural context.  (I’m leaving out the one which most caught me off guard; ask me about it sometime.)  But the point of this post is that words have power, the meaning of them may not be what it seems at first, and finally, one needs to keep up with the current meaning of words in order to keep one’s vocabulary relevant.  And, so I’ll close with one more example, one that we frequently remind our clients to heed.  The term and words, PTSD, for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has evolved and now the preferred term is PTS – Post Traumatic Stress.  The stigma attached to “disorder” has rendered PTSD obsolete.  Many of the cases we handle involve post traumatic stress.  And, according to psychologists, psychiatrists, and the military, the use of the word “disorder” is outmoded.  Post traumatic stress is the diagnosis terminology and is clearly as descriptive as necessary.  Keeping up with terminology means both learning new terms (as I have done in recent years learning social media terms, for example) and re-learning old terms.  It was a cool farm!

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