When a word is overused it loses its power. Unfortunately one of the most overused words today is “abuse”. This is not to say that abuse is not a problem. Acts of abuse are far too common in our world. The label we use has become generic.
If we expand our vocabulary just a little, we rediscover the word “mistreat”. In my opinion, to mistreat is a more accurate term. Mistreat, as a verb, succinctly describes a harmful action. Mistreatment, as a noun, is still powerful because “treat” is its root word. Mistreat and mistreatment are very precise terms.
For instance, there is the global problem of child abuse. We encounter the term so often that society has become numb about it. When we want to put a fine point on this terrible problem, we can use the more precise phrase, “mistreatment of children”. This wording focuses on how children are sometimes treated by parents and authority figures. This semantic adjustment causes our minds to view this unfortunate situation in a new light.
The statement, “Democracy must be based on open societies, otherwise there will be abuse of minorities” is generic. If we substitute abuse with a more powerful, exact word, we might write, “Democracy must be based on open societies, otherwise there will be subjugation of minorities.” The second wording describes the situation more accurately.
We might say, “Nobody should be abused because of who they are.” To make our statement more profound we can reword it as, “Nobody should be mistreated or harassed because of who they are.”
So, social warriors can become more effective when we adopt more powerful, exact terminology. There is a place for generic words in general conversation. However, when we use exact wording, our messages become more focused and effective.