Meaningless Words

As a diverse and accepting community, Andover fosters an environment of respect and cultural awareness… hold on. Are you still awake? I thought so. Let me rewind. It’s Monday morning, and I’m giving a tour for my work duty. Quite frankly, I just don’t give a crap. So what can I do? I revert to my default admissions speech and extol our amazing opportunities and incredible diversity instead of telling the poor, nervous eighth grader what actually makes Andover a great place. I breathe deeply and set off for Bulfinch, beginning my rehearsed spiel plagiarized from the admissions catalog. I improvise, throwing in words like “community” and “respect.” We finally arrive at SamPhil. He nods his head, trying to keep up while I mention the cluster system and its nurturing quality: “It’s great because while you get the opportunities of a large school, you also get the small community atmosphere” Really, those Wednesday night cinnamon roll munches make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And All-School Meeting just isn’t the same without sitting in Pine Knoll’s exclusive balcony locale. As I look back, I realize that was a mistake. I should have spared the poor kid. He’s probably heard the same words from my tour guide counterpart at Exeter anyway. The point is that these meaningless expressions are lazy. Resorting to such tactics requires no thought and does not actually tell anyone anything worthy of note. But the lure is great. It’s harmless, and I have better things on my mind than actually convincing this applicant to come. And I’ll never offend anyone by blabbering in this manner. In fact, the clueless kid soaked it all up while I got to hoard my brainpower for my biology test. Win-win situation. Wrong, Michelle, wrong. My Monday morning tour was not the exception; unfortunately, it was the norm. In emails from the administration, in school-sponsored events, in club meetings and in class, people have been lazy. Ultimately, the audience isn’t the only one losing out when people resort to such wordplay. The original essence of these casually thrown around expressions has been abused. The sad thing is, these words actually have significance outside of the cliché. People just no longer think about this significance because it has been buried beneath all the hollow usage. Take the word “respect.” What does that even mean? Most people use it as a fluff term to insert whenever they wish to describe the great bonds formed between the members of our illustrious community. Or even more irritatingly, some use it to coerce others into taking them as seriously as they take themselves. But how often do people connect the meaning of the word “respect” to the actual manifestation of respect in everyday phenomenon and in life? You know what real respect is? Respect is actually listening to your classmate’s comment during English class instead of waiting patiently for their mouth to stop moving so you can jump in with your more insightful comment, not some vague sentiment you invoke when you don’t know what else to say. So the next time you find yourself sounding like you’re introducing an All-School Meeting speaker, please, cut the crap. If not for the nervous applicant you’re touring, then for the credibility of the English language. Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson. Take some care in what you say. Webster would thank you. Michelle Ma is three-year Upper from Corona, CA. She is an Associate Commentary editor for The Phillipian.