“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient … highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed â€“ fully understood â€“ that sticks; right in there somewhere.”
That quote comes courtesy of Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the movie Inception (2010). He is pitching his unique services to Saito (Ken Watanabe), a wealthy businessman. While his reference to intestinal worms as Saito eats his dinner is a shock and awe tactic, Cobb is absolutely right. Nothing is more powerful than a fully formed, fully understood idea.
We communicate our ideas in a variety of ways, including written and oral language. One particular piece of language that conveys a powerful message getting recent attention comes from the NFL. There is a strong push to have team owner Daniel Snyder change the name of the Washington Redskins.
The desire for a name change stems from the disparaging and troubling history of the term “Redskins” as a racial epithet. A recent Esquire article revealed an even more disturbing origin of the word. Documents dating back to the year 1755 show the term being used when bounties were put on the heads of Native Americans. The heads were scalped and sold for cash. They were advertised as “Redskins.” The history of this term has, understandably, been a point of contempt for the Native American community for many years. Members of various tribes throughout the country have fought to remove such imagery from American society. While it hasn’t always been a mainstream fight, the battle is in the public’s eye today.
But powerful language isn’t always negative. Another document, written a mere 21 years later would go on to inspire a nation for 238 years and counting.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These lines from the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence have been a driving force for transformative changes throughout our young nation’s history. While these words did not always ring true for certain groups, the idea they represent have been used to enact change and prevent an acceptance of the status quo. From the end of slavery, to women’s suffrage, to the civil rights movement, to LGBT rights, these words have inspired us as a nation to move forward. That simple sentence conveys an idea that has been etched into the brains of all Americans, young and old, and has given America its greatest trait: the never ending passion to strive for excellence.
Language has the power to build up walls, and also tear them down. Language can both divide and unite. Dishearten or inspire. The beauty of language is it can accomplish all things. The pen truly is mightier than the sword. And that’s why we at Quester are so enthralled with language.