Whether you subscribe to the old adage, “sticks and stones can break my bones” or “the pen is mightier than the sword” there is one thing upon which we can all agree:

Words are thrown being around pretty recklessly these days.

There seems to be so much confusion about what even basic words mean, that when a word suddenly spikes in online look-ups, Merriam Webster’s dictionary has taken to tweeting the definition in response.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-2-40-40-pmSometimes their responses are cheekier than others.

This isn’t a matter of semantics anymore. Words have power and can make big ripples.

This week, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the symbolic Doomsday Clock up 30 seconds. It now reads 2.5 minutes to midnight. For those unfamiliar, midnight represents the end of humanity. This is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953.

In explaining the reason for the move, the Bulletin’s Executive Director, Dr. Rachel Bronson, told The New York Times:

“We’re so concerned about the rhetoric, and the lack of respect for expertise, that we moved it 30 seconds. Rather than create panic, we’re hoping that this drives action.”

[Full disclosure: if the name sounds familiar, Dr. Bronson is a relative of several Little Hinge personnel.] 

As a followup to the action, two Bulletin affiliated experts — a theoretical physicist and the former chairman of the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change —  wrote an Op Ed in the Times stating:

“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

As if the Clock weren’t enough, the Administration signed an executive order on Saturday barring entry to the United States for individuals from seven select, majority Muslim, countries. Distressingly, far more dangerous countries were left off the list, because they may have business ties to the Trump financial empire.

Worst of all, Syria – the epicenter of the world’s current refugee crisis – is on the banned list. Instead of stopping potential terrorists from coming into the U.S., this Executive Order is keeping refugees from claiming asylum.

It’s a crucial time to review your vocabulary, particularly since so many words are wielded to frighten rather than to educate.  Here are four we think are particularly important this week:


So what more can you do?

  1. Be careful with your own words. Make sure you’re using the factual meanings of words in conversations.
  2. Keep your eye on the State Department and let your own Senator and Representatives know why the recent resignations of senior career diplomats and bureaucrats is dangerous and distressing.
  3. Donate to the International Rescue Committee.
  4. Watch The Rachel Maddow show from January 27, 2017. You may have to sign in on the MSNBC site, but the discussion of immigration at the end is well worth your time.

[UPDATE: Four federal judges have issued orders blocking the Executive Order. Green card holders and those who have already been granted refuge in the US will not be barred entry.]

This post was created by two contributors: Rhona Bronson and Madeline Karp.