The Price We Pay for Word Play

“The Price We Pay for Word-Play” was originally posted by hint Founder & CEO, Kara Goldin, on LinkedIn here:


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Growing up, I learned that the link between language and meaning was fixed. Words were limited to their definitions, and those linguistic parameters were the structure necessary for language. “Tables” couldn’t mean “eggs,” and “yesterday” couldn’t mean “galaxy.” Because our reality is framed within the context of words, this stability is crucial to understanding the truth of our experiences. Yet again and again as an adult, I’m confronted with the ubiquitous liberties taken with meaning. And I can’t help but wonder—what is the price we pay for word play?

As a mother of four, my children often ask me how a word can be used in a sentence. The answer to this kind of question should be straightforward, but in these moments I have to pause. What my children don’t yet understand is the extent to which language has strayed from its intended meaning, and their struggle to grasp language is exacerbated by this fluidity. Nuances, implications, and outright mistruths are attached to words without explanation, and these deviations from meaning leave plenty of room for misinterpretation—not just for the novice, but for all of us.

I hear this constantly in our current vernacular. Yesterday, I overheard a woman telling her friend how “obsessed” she was with her new shoes. “I’m in love with them!” she exclaimed. To the untrained ear, this conversation might well have raised some goose bumps, not to mention red flags, but we’ve become accustomed to hyperbole. Overstimulation has reached beyond entertainment and technology—it’s apparent in our everyday conversations, where sensationalism takes on the form of a casual chat.

That example is somewhat innocuous, but this excess in language goes beyond a woman’s love of shoes. I recently passed a sign for a mattress store that read, “The only mattress professionals.” What is a mattress professional, exactly? A manufacturer? A distributor? A retailer? Whatever the case, they are certainly not the only ones. I have a similar eye-roll inducing experience every time I read “Limited Edition” or “Exclusive.” On some level, everything is a limited edition, which means that nothing is a limited edition. As for exclusive—isn’t everything exclusive to those who can afford it? Isn’t a particular design “exclusive” to the brand producing it? These are not words whose purpose is to transmit meaning—these are tricks to coerce consumers through a feigned sense of urgency and elitism.

All of this I can stomach, even though it irks me. But when I see this type of manipulation being applied in my line of work, it hits especially close to home. As founder and CEO of hint water, I take authenticity very seriously. Every aspect of our product is based in honesty—from our natural, non-GMO fruit infused water to our marketing strategies. Our belief is simple: promote healthful, honest living that invigorates lives. It’s for exactly this reason that our product is called hint water, and not hint beverage—because it is actual water. No sugar, no preservatives, no color additives, no artificial anything.

And yet so many other “water” alternatives on the market are no more water than soda is. A great example is VitaminWater. Check the label on any of their original flavors, and you’ll see they contain up to 32 grams of sugar per bottle. SoBe Lifewater contains modified food starch and xanthan gum, and is packed with sweeteners. Just because a beverage contains water, doesn’t mean that it is water. Consumers recognize “beverage” as a neon sign that a product isn’t necessarily healthy, and as a result many companies instead craft their brand identities around the word “water” to create a counterfeit sense of wholesomeness. It’s misleading and it’s harmful, especially when consumers are entrusting their health and well-being to businesses whose bottom line is ultimately profits.

So who wins at the game of word play? The truth is that when the language game is designed to undermine the consumer, we all lose. Strong communities depend on mutual trust and support, and our belief at hint is that we’re all in this together. We can’t forbid duplicity from taking place around us. All we can do is make a commitment to truth in all our actions—lest we one day end up eating (or drinking) our words.

Kara Goldin is Founder and CEO of Hint Water, the fastest-growing flavored water in the United States. Kara started Hint when she couldn’t find a healthy water that tasted great without questionable additives like sweeteners. Hint Water has 0 calories, 0 sugar, and 0 diet sweeteners and can be purchased online at www.drinkhint.com in a variety of flavors including Blackberry and Watermelon, in both still and sparkling.