I kind of hate when I am told, in work situations, not to “take it personally.” I have, actually, never known what that means. If someone is rude to you or takes credit for your work, that’s personal, isn’t it? I am a person, they are a person… that would seem to add up to “personal” if anything would! Maybe my kindhearted advisors are urging me to let insults and other slights committed during the course of a workday just roll of my back, not let them bother me. Okay, I get that. But I also can’t help but take it personally.
In trying to figure out the definition of the word “personal” in the realm of work, it seems I’m in good company… or among good companies.
In the book The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us (Bloomsbury) author James W Pennebaker presented a legal case – FCC vs AT&T – where the Supreme Court found that the word personal is not just a derivative form of person but an independent term with its own meaning. So I could take something personally, whether or not I’m a person! Or whether or not I work in a company, I suppose.
Beyond “personal,” the book is a broad survey of the meanings associated with words like I, he, the, of, not, could… words that provide structure. Written by a psychologist, the book tells us what linguistics can do in the realm of emotion and relationships. Words like we and the can divulge our emotions and affect audience perceptions, for example. Higher use of I-words indicates a person who is lower in a hierarchy. Men and women use different types of words (men=words like the and a; women=words like I, understand, because). Fascinating reading for all of us who seek to catch and keep audience attention for specific purposes. If any of you have read the book, please let me know your thoughts!