WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve always badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools used correctly. They can be dangerous used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books. Including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction.  Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.

Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.  True.  Some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “20 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still reverberates a half century later. In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love’em.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

28 thoughts on “WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG”

    1. Remarkable thought. We started with cryptograms and evolved to written language and now, we are going back again. Don’t worry. One day, for NO reason, the emoji fad with simply die. No special reason. The fad will collapse. Like every other fad has collapsed.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. That made me think of some things elderly people have said over the years that shocked me. For them, it was normal to use those terms or words. Acceptable. Opposite of what you were saying, that people should remember/learn what some words really mean.

    I have been in places where people are all sitting together and they are texting other people. No one talks anymore. Why not speak to the people that are there sitting around you? Better yet, just go. Leave. I hate when people come to visit and spend half the time checking the screen on their phone.

    The old head smack…I had my share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rebel, that reminds me of some family gatheings when I was a kid. There was an older contingent – from the West Indies. All men — lots of drinking with loud, Carribbean music and cigar smoke filling the room. I hear some ribald stories with language I knew was “bad”. Laughter followed each of the stories. Usually my Mom or one of the women would scoop me up, scold me and yank me back into the “safe” zone with other women and childen. There would be lectures to not lsten to those stories or the language used by the old guys. I was reminded how offensive their words were. I was just a bit confused by the double standards. Many of those jokes involved racial stereotypes of other minorities. What? Huh?

      Many, many years later I was reminded of those ribald parties as I sat in bars, listening to familiar stories and laughter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is hard to believe what was everyday talk was considered acceptable. The women I knew that still used these words in regular conversation, floored me. They laughed when I said how inappropriate it was to use these days. To them, it wasn’t even offensive.

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        1. Still true, Rebel. I’m a little easier with it now but still uncomfortable. I try to exit the scene as soon as I can. Marilyn is always telling me about how it is when women get together.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Words! ? O words?! How many I wish I could withdraw. Able to cut deeper than any knife and wound longer than any ill. ‘Good Words” however, may raise one, open the mind … and the heart.
    The power of Words.
    ‘John Wayne’? I would guess most Actors would know the power of words. ‘Big Jake’!? “Mon Soor”? I always thought he was saying “Mon Sewer”. A notable difference. LoL!
    Just words.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love Wayne’s “MON-soor”. Got to point where I couldn’t say it correctly and dropped from conversation.

      Same thing with — Happy Fourth of JU-ly.

      Funny thing: listening to Wayne in an interview (70’s)talking about Pappy Ford and politics. He didn’t have any of those familiar cadence measures in his voice. He was thoughtful and spoke like a Pilgrim.

      Watch them words, Pilgrim.

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      1. He seemed well spoken. Definitely outspoken.
        You were fortunate to meet him. He also seemed to be a personable guy who would be fun to be around – IF you could handle his heavy smoking. There’s conflicting testimony about his drinking though – some say a lot – some say not. I think he enjoyed a drink for sure – but could handle his booze. I guess his French could have been improved.

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        1. I couldn’t tolerate his politics very long. Neither could Garry. At least, not at close quarters. As far as we understand, he was — as all his colleagues were too — a very heavy drinker. Everyone can handle it, until one day they can’t. He didn’t live quite long enough to outlive his ability to handle it. On the positive side, he was a genuine patriot, if not a very thoughtful one, and pretty decent human being.

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          1. One of his wives suggested his Ultra Patriotism was out of guilt for not fighting in the war. ?? From afar it was pretty hard to handle. At one point I understand he was ordered by his doctors to quit drinking – due to his cancer I believe. This was very hard on him they say because like most drinkers his whole social life is built around drinking. But it was his atrocious smoking habit eventually killed him – and he admitted.it.

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            1. He always said it was because he made several movies in Utah where they had tested nuclear bombs. Every person on those shoots died of lung cancer too, so he may have had a point, but heavy smoking certainly didn’t help.

              He didn’t fight in the war and he SHOULD feel guilty. He decided to hang around Hollywood and improve his career when almost everyone else who was physically able did something to help with the war … and then he made all these super patriotic movies that made him look like the war hero that he wasn’t. So I’m sure he did feel guilty.

              Garry had to stop drinking and so did a lot of his associates. Drinking was very much a part of being a reporter, not to mention a cop, a politician, a lawyer, etc. All seriously heavy drinkers and these days, ALL on the wagon. We go to parties and everyone orders ginger ale.

              It isn’t easy to quit drinking — or for that matter smoking — but we can do it. We did it.

              My guess is that Wayne was missing the one piece he needed in his life to make it work: a partner to help him.

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              1. That stuff about Utah is an urban myth. Nobody bothered to check it out until fairly recently. John never copped out to that though – admitted it was his smoking.
                Myself, I drank and smoked heavily for about 7/8 years. 2 packs a day – drinking was our daily lifestyle. But I eventually dropped booze and drugs for religious reasons. Spirituality and substances don’t mix. That cost me most of my so-called friends.
                But I was happy to move along.

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                  1. Marilyn,
                    Based on his horrific experience with all that, John started up the John Wayne Cancer Foundation – https://johnwayne.org/ which most people don’t seem to know about. They are still operating and doing some good works it seems. He had some regrets and tried to make up for it.

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