The first time I heard this saying was in preschool. I do not remember the specific context, most likely it had something to do with my fiery best friend with the sharp comebacks, but I remember my confusion. Yes, getting physically hurt was undesirable but surely words were stronger than fists.
A bruise will fade, a cut will scab over, a broken bone will mend, but verbal attacks become permanent landmarks in our memories. The sting of a paddle is far less than a carefully crafted verbal lashing. A victim of spousal abuse will stay with the abuser as long as there is an apology afterward, a declaration of affection and remorse. Loving words can override vile behaviour, over and over again and just as easily work in the opposite direction: vile words can override loving behaviour.
Maybe the true phrase should be “sticks and stones may break my bones but names (or words, as I learned it) will break my heart, crush my soul, and trigger World War III”.
This week, we have six stories that explore this old English rhyme.