Zocalo near Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero, Mexico. Dao Ling/92nd Street Y

The #WordsWeLiveIn campaign invites users to share snapshots of phrases they stumble across.

In Oakland, California, a wall is painted with the words “Trust Your Struggle.” In Guerrero, Mexico, “Perdon,” colorfully rendered, rises up above the sidewalk. Cars on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx pass a “Gratitude” sign along the side of the road.

A social media campaign launched by the 92nd Street Y in New York, #WordsWeLiveIn asks people to notice the words and phrases that surround them—on billboards, on bathroom stalls, on street signs, on monuments. From anywhere in the world, people can take to Instagram to share snippets that speak to them. Some are quirky: one Instagrammer questions, upon seeing a mailbox in Gambier, Ohio labeled “Keep,” whether it’s a dorm name or a verb; others, like a sidewalk snapshot of a scrawled “believe in yourself” at the corner of 18th and Castro in San Francisco, are more poignant.

A photo posted by Julie Mashack (@jmashack) on

The campaign, which runs through the end of July, is tied to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death; the 92nd Street Y partnered with cultural institutions like the New York Historical Society and the Public Theater to commemorate the poet’s work. But 92Y is pushing the boundaries on the usual homage to the Bard. “We wanted to explore the influence of the language in our surroundings, not just language on the page,” says Ava Lehrer, the assistant director for Education Outreach at the 92nd Street Y. “There’s this global canvas of words that people are encountering in their everyday lives, on their commutes to work or traveling in unfamiliar places.”

A photo posted by Julie Mashack (@jmashack) on

Anyone can participate in the campaign by uploading a found phrase, but 92Y has also partnered with literary organizations like the Poetry Society of America, Kundiman, and CantoMundo to feature original works each up-and-coming writers who speak to a sense of universality and place-finding through language. One such poet is Monica Sok. As a Cambodian-American woman who grew up in Amish Country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she responded to a sign saying “Please Keep Door Closed” with a poem examining her own feelings of isolation and displacement. Her poem is up at the 92Y site. Through Sok’s work, Lehrer says, readers understand how identity can be reflected in response to a single phrase.

Even if they’re just small or stumbled upon, words have an effect and a role in the world. #WordsWeLiveIn is a reminder to look more closely at them.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Hope You Aren't Counting on Getting a Tax Refund This Winter

    Millions of low-income households rely on the Earned Income Tax Credit to help them get through the winter. Too bad most IRS workers are furloughed.

  2. Two men plant a young tree in a lot in Detroit.
    Environment

    Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting

    Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out the problem: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them.

  3. A photo of President Donald Trump showing off U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes in March 2018.
    Perspective

    This Isn't a Border Wall: It's a Monument to White Supremacy

    Like Confederate monuments, President Trump’s vision of a massive wall along the Mexican border is about propaganda and racial oppression, not national security.

  4. Inscriptions on a Confederate monument in Linn Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
    Equity

    Alabama Can’t Make Birmingham Display Confederate Monument

    The legal decision was monumental both for its dismantling of a pro-Confederate law and the implications for cities’ rights in the face of states’ rights.

  5. A brownstone in Brooklyn, where Airbnb growth has been particularly strong in recent years.
    Life

    What Airbnb Did to New York City

    Airbnb’s effects on the city’s housing market have been dramatic, a report suggests. And other cities could soon see the same pattern.