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When we express affection and convey good wishes, how much does language choice matter? Does it empower or disempower those communicating?

Photo by Christiana Rivers from Unsplash. In public domain.
Photo by Christiana Rivers from Unsplash. In public domain.

I’ve noticed a lot of people responding on social media with “sending hugs” (which I guess says something about the circles I run in; I don’t hang out with a ton of overtly religious folks).

In terms of folklore genres, I would consider phrases like “sending hugs” and “sending prayers” to be folk speech: informal expressions that have become traditional within a group. And they basically mean the same thing: I’m thinking of you, I hope you’re well/that things improve, I wish I could do something from a distance.

The way I see it, while these phrases can be used interchangeably, they have different connotations. As an atheist I obviously don’t have much use for prayers (whether sent my way or not), though I appreciate the thought behind it. I do think there’s something more… agential?… about wanting to send affection from myself to a person who’s struggling, rather than asking for a deity that may or may not exist to intercede.

Am I the only one who gets this sense? I would expect that the folklore and expressions of a group reflect its worldview, and so I guess it makes sense to assign responsibility and agency accordingly. I know I would rather tell someone that I’m thinking of them and sending affection than recommending them to the whims of a deity that does not, as far as I can tell, answer every prayer sent its way.

FOXY FOLKORIST Studied folklore under Alan Dundes at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy...

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