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Leadership Language

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In recently working with some fourth and fifth graders at an inner city school, one of my assignments as a volunteer teacher’s assistance was to try to help the “hardcore” males handle arguments peacefully before erupting into battles.

We started by improving their verbal virtuosity (producing special effects through expertise with “highclass” words). Instead of cursing or using expletives (meaningless words) or resorting to degrading words (e.g. “you stupid idiot”), they substituted phrases like “you are a philodex” (someone in love with his/her own opinions).

In trying this approach, the little warriors found they could stun opponents and thereby end the argument peacefully. When tired of criticism, they retorted: “hey criticaster, get off my back.” Thus, they expressed their irritation and kept opponents from getting more angry. Why? Because opponents did not know they were being called a third-rate, mean-spirited, contemptible critic. Of course, before using these “big” words the boys had to learn their meanings. Learning concepts contained in a word sharpens thinking and helps build powerful (standard English) vocabularies.

An excellent way to assume a leadership position in any mixed racial group is the Bidialectical (bilingual) ability of fluently speaking both Black English and standard English. This same principle applies in becoming an expert in two careers. For example, by training in Orthopaedic surgery as well as in medical genetics, I could translate orthopaedic concepts into genetics and genetics into orthopaedics.

As a result, the “whole” of knowledge, from combining two fields, was greater than the sum of these two fields -- the “1+1=3 concept.” This made me unique in being able to handle special subjects involving both fields. Being a bidialectical makes you a translator for both dialects and therefore gives you advantages over all others within your group. When People Choose To Come To You For Something They Want, You Are In A Position Of Power.

This happens by cultivating your verbal virtuosity -- acquiring a large vocabulary, knowing and selecting the precise meanings of each word, and beautifully arranging them for effectiveness.

As a result of studying Alice Walker’s: “The Color Purple” (written in Black English vernacular), June Jordan, a Black American poet and teacher, and her students devised rules for enriching the expressiveness of Black English:

(1) use the minimal number of words for every idea to give the language greater poetic force;

(2) strive for clarity;

(3) avoid using tenses of the verb “to be,” seeking more descriptive and precise verbs;

(4) use “be” or “been” only to describe an ongoing state of affairs -- “she be at the office” means “she is always at the office” -- a throw back to the Portuguese “ben,” a marker indicating continuing action;

(5) to say something really positive, use the negative: “he bad” is beyond “he’s fabulous!;” and

(6) be creative in inventing words: “astropotomous” for an “astronomically huge hippopotamus.” Creativity is taking known materials of memory or observation and fashioning new groupings, arrangements, and view points.

Black English is the first language of ghetto children and its use in complex games of verbal insults -- variously called “signifying,” “sounding,” or “the dozens” -- is highly valued by them.

Unfortunately, it is often used in a degrading way. Within these “ping-pong” insults are creative, quick, and clever wit. Such wit practices are to be encouraged but switching from degrading others to building up each other.
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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