Word Order

What we call things matters.

I think I was first struck by this years ago, when I was sitting in a pew at synagogue and my clergy-person at the time was talking about the distinction between being “a Jewish-American” and “an American Jew”.  It’s a question of what word modifies which, and which one gets the emphasis, and the distinction that word-order makes has stuck with me through years.For the record, and not entirely tangential to the topic – I prefer “American Jew”.  If I were to make aliyah tomorrow, I’d be an Israeli Jew – I’d still be Jewish, but my nationality is entirely by circumstance of where I’m living, which is what dictates the word choice.  Mostly, it’s a thought that the noun should be what’s more important, and therefore what’s emphasized.

Word order matters for the Monster, in a different respect.

I recently wrote a blog post for a local organization (which should appear in the coming days) about the services they offer for those with special needs, and, as I often do instinctively, I referred to the Monster as a “special needs child”.  It fits with what I mentioned earlier – that the noun ‘child’ should have the emphasis, because it’s what he is regardless of the Autism.  The post went over to them, and everyone was very happy about what I’d written, and it was just a matter of when it’d go up.

And then yesterday, while editing it, they shot me another mail, asking if they could make a minor change.  Would I mind if they swapped it around to ‘child with special needs’, given that “he’s a child first”.

I’ll admit that I’d not thought about the difference in word order there.  The former phrase is certainly easier to say, but the other does put the emphasis on reminding folks that it’s not his Autism that defines him, but that he’s a child like any other.  You’d think as his parent, I’d think about that a lot more than I do, but… well, I’m as lazy verbally as anyone else.  It’s definitely food for thought, though, and I’m going to try to make the effort going forward to stick with that in my verbiage.

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