Last week, Sir John Chilcot outlined his findings on the UK’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War and the lessons to be learned from it. He produced a report of 2.6 million words, complied from hundreds of interviews, documents and other evidence.
The analysis by the media and other commentators quickly discarded 2,599,999 of those words and homed in on one. The word that was deemed to have made the difference was “whatever”.
In July 2002, months before the invasion, the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a memo to President George W Bush. It said “I’ll be with you, whatever.” His critics argue that one word, and that word alone, showed his total commitment to war.
According to the dictionary, whatever is a pronoun, and the simple definition is “anything, or everything that” or “no matter what, regardless of what”. But in street slang, whatever is ‘used in an argument to admit that you are wrong without admitting it so the argument is over”. Using whatever with that meaning would certainly change the context.
Another word that’s been under scrutiny recently is bitch, as in fans of would-be US President Donald Trump’s description of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Merchandise associating Hillary with ‘bitch’ have been called lewd and offensive (and to be clear, they are not part of Mr. Trump’s official campaign), but others, such as former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown have called on Hillary to embrace her ‘inner bitch’ – using the word to have positive meaning.
And coach Denise Duffield-Thomas has made a whole career out of the word bitch – her “Lucky Bitch” books and webinars aim to empower female entrepreneurs and inspire them to greater success.
Language is meant be organic; it’s meant to change and adapt to our lifestyle. The thing with language is that it’s also meant to be spoken. Hearing a teenager use the word ‘whatever’ is different to hearing a politician say it. Which is why video is such a growing medium. You get the whole meaning from hearing someone speak – not just an interpretation of it. You can see them, their facial expression, the way they hold their body; you can hear the tone of voice.
Communicating a difficult or important message can have a better chance of success with the spoken word because of the holistic nature of delivering the message. In everyday lives, communicating well is vital. We increase the efficiency of the way we work and the way we connect– and the wrong word in the wrong place and written down for all eternity to see may bring, as Mr Blair has found out, a whole heap of trouble.