TOXIC: poisonous, capable of bringing on death


You’re probably familiar with the chemical meaning for the word toxic.   It describes chemicals, venoms, mushrooms, or other substances that are poisonous and capable of killing someone.

Toxic is a word that comes from Latin and Greek origins, toxicum being the Latin word for “poisonous.”   Interestingly, the Greek word, toxikòn phármakon, means “bow poison,”  specifically referring to the substance that warriors put on the tips of their arrows to kill persons the arrows pierced.

There is another use for the word toxic, however, upon which I want to focus today.   It is an adjective which is used to identify a plan, a phrase, or an action which someone may take which can prove to be damaging to another person, perhaps even killing them…either literally or figuratively.  You will run into this word in articles in the media, where someone will indicate that a disclosure  about a political candidate can be toxic to their candidacy, perhaps killing off any chance of winning the election.

I remember the instance of Senator Eagleton who, in 1972, was forced to disclose that he had undergone mental health procedures including electronic shock therapy.   At that time in history the country was in denial about mental health issues (even more than at the present time.)     Eagleton was forced to withdraw from candidacy.   (Abraham Lincoln was accused of having deep depression, a factor which almost “killed” his chances for election.   It was accurate that he had such a condition, but he weathered the storm and succeeded. )   It could be said that the disclosure of Eagleton’s situation was , toxic, rendering him “dead” in the election.

Toxicity , when used in this way, has not always been open and candid.   Many times it is the result of a “whisper campaign,” waged in subtle ways behind closed doors, and bringing on the effects of toxic venom known only to those in power.    However, in this age of rampant social media, it would be hard to keep such information quiet.  Such issues as economic malfeasance, sexual impropriety, or bribery or favoritism is flagrantly displayed on the front pages of the printed media, on the Internet, and on the electronic media.   Almost before a candidate comes to know about charges of impropriety, it is flashed to the entire country.   Some candidates literally learn of allegations  by turning on their television, or checking their Twitter account.

Toxic commentary is not restricted to politics.   It can happen in criticism of the arts, rumor in sports, and even around a family dinner table.

At this point in communication history, it is not clear that there is such a thing as an antidote which is generic for all methods of toxicity.  The speed of electronic media is so great that the ability to apply an antivenom in time to prevent “death” is almost impossible.   When a snake bites a person and injects venom into the person’s  veins, there is the capability of injecting an antivenom which removes the toxic capability of the venom.

Unfortunately, the venom circulating on social media doesn’t just “go away.”   Attempts to remove it or destroy it are futile.  Once printed…forever available.    In a sense, toxic words are even more dangerous than a snake’s venom.


Cartoon Credit:  toonpool

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