The right word at the right time | ParkRecord.com

The right word at the right time

By Teri Orr
Park Record columnist

Years ago, when I was a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune (the Park City correspondent-there was such a thing in the '80's) I was pretty sure I discovered massive corruption in our tiny city government.

I spent months developing sources and meeting in out-of -the-way places in the county, trying to unravel what I was being told.

I kept my editor abreast of my findings and he kept encouraging my work. Finally, at the end of my research, I drove to Salt Lake and met with him in a tiny Chinese diner on the seventh floor of a downtown office building city reporters loved.

I told him, with much sadness and embarrassment and defeat, all the months of intrigue ended when I discovered there were indeed bad feelings between elected officials and city staff and some developers, but there were no actual criminal behaviors. I was sorry for wasting so much time on a non-story. And he said to me, those time-honored words every journalist learns…. "It's hell when the truth gets in the way of a good story."

Because words matter that much to me. The beauty of them written allowed me to journey when my circumstances did not. Words had cut and hurt, so I tried to avoid those with others. Words made the ordinary beautiful.

He was so generous with his time and his wisdom and kept encouraging me, me without a college degree let alone any formal training in journalism, to keep writing and keep investigating because "the truth always wins out."

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So it was with both amusement and a heavy heart, I woke up in the middle of the night this week unable to sleep and turned on the radio that was still in the BBC news cycle.

I heard the announcement of the "word of the year" as determined by the Oxford Dictionary. A word in such common usage that it was time to add it to the language of our language.

The word is "post-truth." And though it has apparently been around for decades, in this year alone, it's usage has jumped 2,000 percent, according to researchers. The first spike came after the Brexit vote and the second during our own election cycle.

The definition, if I can easily explain it, refers to the dissemination of information to make one's case with passion but not facts. Much of the rhetoric used to misinform voters in England about the economic issues surrounding the European Union. And misinformation about each other, especially the refugee and immigrant populations there.

The Oxford folks say it may have started out to mean, after a truth, but now it means — in relationship to politics anyway — when the truth is irrelevant.

The American spike in usage came after Donald Trump received the Republican nomination this summer.

In my Super Moon, super not sleeping but not fully awake state, I thought of the little tour I had taken with my son last fall in the building he works in at the University of Utah: the James Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology building.

He is a physicist there. I cannot explain more than that. But he showed me incredibly cool equipment that did amazing work in Nano-optics among other things. And in one room, we walked past, were people working in pure white, kinda hazmat suits. He explained to me any dust particles, hair follicles, skin tissue could contaminate the research they were performing. The detail and precision of the research was that, well, precise.

I thought about what my son Randy does and I always marvel. He is so detailed about his work. So left-brained. So absolute. I know, for a fact, he was raised by a kinda hippie single mom. And the only claim I might have in his development was our constant conversations about words and their power and their precise usage.

When we moved to Utah from Lake Tahoe in 1979, his elementary school was in the building that is now City Hall. He came home one day and in a fit of something declared "Oh my heck!" in a loud proud voice. I asked him what exactly was he trying to say. He mumbled about a swear word but this was the word all the other kids were using instead.

I informed him, in the strongest single parent voice I had that the word was "Hell." And if he was going to take to swearing he better use the correct language — He would still be punished of course, but the punishment would be twice the severity if he used the wrong word. And that especially went for the ever Utah popular "flippin.'" Say the word, the correct word, and receive a lesser penalty.

Because words matter that much to me. The beauty of them written allowed me to journey when my circumstances did not. Words had cut and hurt, so I tried to avoid those with others. Words made the ordinary beautiful.

When I had little else, I had words. Finding the correct word to use was no less important than the correct wrench to tighten something up, the right tool for the right job.

There were other words that almost made Oxford dictionary this year. Words like "glass cliff" and "Brexiteer" and "adulting."

And one that will surely be in the book soon, taken from black slang, "woke," as in being awakened to racism and injustice in society. "I been woked" makes me think of an old gospel song that says "I been 'buked/ And I been scorned."

Because after this election cycle filled with post truths, I been woked in a way where I can no longer be unwoked….Something to start sharing each day, like Sundays in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

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