In this day and age, I see the proper use of language as a daily challenge. Maybe you don’t worry about it but I surely do.

Why? Because I really don’t want to upset people by simply using the wrong word, the wrong phrase and the wrong idea at the wrong time.

I never thought I’d live long enough for the “F word” to be in common everyday usage but the word “ladies” could be seen as a “micro-aggression.”

One of my goals in the last chapter of my life as a writer and broadcaster is to successfully navigate the often-perilous waters of communication by determining what words in what context are acceptable to which people.

It’s partly a process of aging and vanity. I don’t want younger people to believe that I don’t “get” it.

How a person speaks to family and friends or to co-workers can be three different sets of vocabulary. To get along with everyone, one must always remember to whom you are conversing.

Talking to strangers? Holy cow, that’s completely dangerous and calls for the most careful language of all.

Believe it or not, gentle readers, but I really don’t like offending people, unless of course they deserve it. This isn’t about being “woke.” It’s about understanding that language can build a wall between people instead of a bridge.

In the past, I’ve tried to prevent misunderstandings by asking someone about language. For instance, when I worked at Wistariahust Museum in Holyoke, one of my tasks was to create a new exhibit with the Native American artifacts in the collection. I was introduced to a native person who was to help me and the first thing I asked was what language I should use in referring to her: “Indian” or “Native American”?

The answer was neither. She identified with her tribal ancestry, the Lakota. I learned something and we got along well during the redesign of the exhibit.

Context is everything, or at least it used to be. What I see, though, is a culture in which the meaning of words shifts constantly. This is not necessarily a bad thing if a word has a negative stigma attached to it that prevents accurate communication of a thought, although I’m the first to admit some changes in language seem unnecessary.

The recent instance in Easthampton in which a person selected to be the next superintendent of schools has the offer rescinded because he used the salutation of “ladies” in an email to two people he knew only underscores my feelings.

Vito Perrone is a known quantity in Easthampton educational circles, and the mind boggles that his use of “ladies” — as in the context of “ladies and gentlemen,” as a greeting — in that situation is deemed offensive.

If an educator with a solid track record gets a job pulled from him because of the salutation of “ladies” to two women who know him, then that’s a lesson for all of us.

By the way, as I write this column there have been reports that he is still interested in the superintendent job as the candidate offered the gig after him has declined the offer. If the decision-makers in Easthampton are smart, they may want to end this controversy — and potentially avoid a lawsuit — by making a new offer to Perrone.

I’ve learned many lessons the hard way — by doing something, finding out the action was a mistake and then paying for it.
What I learned is to second-guess anything I say before I say it or write it. You think retirement would be liberating about expressing opinion? Nope. Am I expressing my unbridled self on social media?

Of course not.

All of us make mistakes when speaking or writing. Individual words may not be the real issue, though, while intent and context are the major concerns. Knowing that all of us can talk and write in error, perhaps we can cut a little slack for one another instead of pointing a finger and making an accusation.

Or in this case, reversing an offer of employment to a qualified candidate.