We become lazy and complacent about word-usage, don’t we? We also waste serious, and deeply-emotional, words for fairly trivial experiences.
Or is it just me?
‘Devastation‘ has two very specific meanings: One, which relates to physical, often geographical and climatic, conditions is ‘great destruction and damage‘; the other, more psychological in its reach, is ‘severe and overwhelming shock or grief’...
We litter our spoken language with such expressions as, ‘I was absolutely devastated’ or, ‘It was a devastating experience’ – and, in our very human need to dramatise every aspect of life’s emotional journey, claim devastation at the drop of a hat.
But how often do our emotions truly touch that level of shock and grief which is the real meaning behind this over-used word? And what are we left with, in the Vocabulary Bank, when circumstances which genuinely merit such a description come along? Double devastation? Utterly devastated? Completely gutted by devastation?
It may feel devastating to us – but is it? Does our relatively trivial suffering equate with the life-changing, death-and-serious-disease, loss-of-all-possessions, war, level of ghastliness for which, I strongly suspect, the word was originally intended?
I know I am guilty of this kind of verbal excess, this thoughtless and egregious embellishment. I know that I am frequently eager to take the lead role in the Greek Tragedy I imagine my life, at times, to be. It isn’t, of course! But this doesn’t stop me from wailing, wringing my hands, rending my garments and claiming devastation when what I actually mean is something far less shattering!
I could, for example, claim that I am devastated that so few copies of my books have sold, that I am not a best-selling author – but such a grandiose claim would be a lie. I am disappointed, yes, peeved, probably, frustrated, indubitably – but my emotions do not crack the cruel crust of devastation.
I think we know, in our heart of hearts – in that honest centre which can never be completely over-ridden by flamboyant attention-seeking – those times in our lives when real devastation hits us. And, with sublime irony, these are often the moments in which we are quietest, most under-stated, most inclined to claim that our suffering is nothing in comparison to that experienced by others. It is at these times that we are most closely connected to our own humanity and to our deep connection with the suffering, and devastation, of others.
We realise that being the central player in the drama is irrelevant – or at least, that the Chorus is equally important, and, indeed, that the drama cannot start without the striking of the Chorus’ Staff upon the echoing stage in the tiered amphitheatre.
Devastation often gives rise to a courage and a concern for others which our more trivial attempts to claim the word lack. When we claim devastation as our own, and guard it jealously, we are immersed in an emotional pool which may be absolutely agonising – but which falls some way short of genuine devastation.