Learning to Say What You Mean

“Want to meet at the Rat or Mac at noon?”

“Oh yeah I have service today, but it’s fine I’ll just take the Comm. Ave. Bus to the D Line.”

“I saw my OL at the Plex today!”

Chances are, if you said any of these things to a wide-eyed high school senior touring Boston College, they would have no idea what you were talking about. What’s an “OL?” Is the Rat a bar? What’s the D Line? Is that the same thing as the bus?

We have nothing short of our own language here on campus, made up almost entirely of acronyms and one-syllable words to describe the many leadership positions at BC and where we eat (the only thing that really matters). For anyone not acclimated to the BC vibe, it can be difficult to understand. But for students who’ve found a home here, it’s just another part of BC life. It’s also a small example of a larger problem.

This lingo seeps into our days so much we often don’t even realize how nuanced it is. This sort of issue doesn’t only characterize the life of a BC student, but of all people. Colloquialisms dominate our conversations, and that can so easily become a different way of speaking and of filtering our thoughts altogether. Dishonesty—in the form of exaggerations, white lies, and masking meaning—affects all of us. Our language and the things we decide to say or not say form our culture, our priorities, and our identities.

Now, calling a dining hall “The Rat” and not being honest with yourself or your friends about how you feel is two different things—but, it is just as easy to slip in to the BC lingo as it is to slip in to pretending everything is okay when it is far from it.

I mean, stop reading for a second and go to your Instagram profile. How long did it take you to come up with that one caption that’s just clever enough without being too well thought out? How many versions of that photo did you have to take before you decided which one to post? We hide behind our social media just as we hide behind our words. Online, we look perfect and happy and carefree, all because we post a photo with a fun tag and a cute caption. In real life, we get the same effect by putting “lit” before nouns as we describe our nights out. We say, “The professor doesn’t teach!” instead of “I don’t understand.” We joke about hating ourselves instead of asking for help. We’re so afraid to be honest about who we really are and what we really need that we would rather make things up and hide our real emotions than just let ourselves be vulnerable.

This is a matter of what we say, yes, but it’s also a matter of how we think. We conceal our own emotions and undercut the true problem every time we say “you’re the worst” instead of “please don’t do that again.” Every time we laugh off a failing grade with “ugh I definitely should’ve tried harder, just shoot me.” Every time we put “like” after every word, as if we’re not certain of what we’re saying even though we know our own intelligence. It’s a matter that comes to fruition in our language, but exists in every part of our life. How many times have you stared at an unsent text on your screen, wondering if it’s too much? How often do you want to talk about something bothering you, but don’t want to bring down the mood or make it awkward? When was the last time you said exactly what you meant without the buffer of “but it’s okay” or “only if you want to”?

Being afraid to communicate our own emotions and concerns makes them feel less valid, and when we’re already stressed about acing that exam on Monday or crafting the perfect resume for the career fair, the last thing we need is our fear of being vulnerable making our personal lives more difficult than they have to be.

Some of us are afraid to tell our parents just how much we miss home. Some of us don’t want our friends to know how overwhelmed we are. Some of us think we’re more comfortable being a duck in water: calm on the surface, but paddling to stay afloat where no one can see. This facade is an easy thing to fall back on, but in the end it doesn’t do us any favors. I’m not encouraging you to say everything on your mind all the time—there’s a reason tact exists, after all. I have noticed, however,  that sometimes our tendency to keep certain things to ourselves can become an obsession with keeping everything too close to the chest. When there’s something you feel needs to be said, say it. Nothing changes unless you make it change, and no one will know how you feel unless you tell them without pretense. I’m urging you to just let go. It’s actually the simplest thing in the world: Just let yourself be who you really are. Everything else will fall into place.   

PSA: October is mental health awareness month. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to say so. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and if you need help there are so many resources here at BC. Be honest with yourself and take advantage of them.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor