So I can’t sleep, so I’m poking around the internet, and I’m reminded of how one word can sometimes become a signal for a whole ‘nother meaning.

Here’s me in memory: I’m 16, and I’m wearing a Value Village-bought full-circle miniskirt in powder blue. If I twirl, people can see my underwear. On top is a T-shirt from church camp. I am at that stage in life where I have decided I decree what is fashionable.

I’m trapped in my boyfriend’s front hall, because his mother is showing me photos of his eldest brother’s wedding. It was hasty, and it was ‘eighties. The bride is wearing a wide-brimmed, lacy hat and is holding a peach silk bouquet. I think there are no full-body photos because there was a child in the belly under that polyester lace. The whole esemble was hideous to me at sixteen, and, in my mind’s eyes, is ghastly even now.

16-year-old me knows that there’s subtext to being so pointedly shown these photos (Look, Look! A lovely wedding, wouldn’t you like to get married and have a man and have a Special Day, nar nar nar…), but I don’t know what to say about it (Hey, I’m 16, stop pimping your son at me, you desperate woman!), so I can think of nothing to say but ‘lovely, lovely, how lovely’, murmuring in my best submissive, yet enthusiastic tones. Okay, I probably sounded demented, but whatever.

Now, sometimes I’ll hear the word ‘lovely’, or say it, and what I actually hear, or feel, is, “How utterly desperate and strange. I am almost frightened.”

This is one way language shapes thought.

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