Words. They can be magic. One single solitary word can make an incredible difference to another person. The ability to speak and write to convey our inner thoughts and ideas to another person is magnificent and has been the foundation for the rest of mankind’s achievement and prosperity. It is easy to take for granted what amazing things spoken and written words are since reading and speaking is commonplace. But language allows us to communicate our thoughts and feelings which allows for understanding. Language when used to its best purposes will illuminate us and inspire us to wonderful creativity. We express our joy and aspirations and use language to share them with others. Without words and the ability to write our thoughts down we would likely still be living in thatch huts. We would have no technology, little art, and a much more bleak life.
I mean hardly anyone would use the word “lugubrious” in a conversation when the easier spoken terms gloomy or mournful or dismal are sufficient. Saying “I’m rather lugubrious today” would likely make your friend laugh at you rather than offer sympathy. But in a book and in the right context it is a much more intriguing word choice.
Think of how sometimes a single word can evoke such a depth of feeling. Like HOPE. A standard definition would say that hope is the wish for something to happen or be true, but for me it is grander than that, more powerful. I always think of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” when I think of hope and how hope forged a friendship and allowed men in horrible conditions to persevere. It encompasses my dreams and deepest desires when sometimes it seems the entire world stands against me. I think Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the soundtrack for hope.
Courage. Serenity. Compassion. Triumphant. Exultation. Adoration. Liberty. Faith. Love. Elegant. Independent. Prosperity. Wisdom.
I love all these words. They are more than single words. They are the genesis of memory, they conjure whole images. These kinds of words make us feel and think. I could spend a whole day looking at quotes and ruminating about them and the choice of words used. I see the word elegant and my mind pictures a beautiful night in Rio de Janeiro and a woman in a stunning black dress. I see the word serenity and my mind goes to a trail of bluebonnets in the forest with not another soul in sight.
But words are also important for clarity and for understanding. For instance a thesaurus will give about 20+ synonyms for the word “surly” (good word). But picture a close friend in a bad mood – are they being boorish or curt or gruff? Or maybe they are just sullen or grouchy or merely disagreeable? Rude? Each term makes you think something slightly different. At least they do for me. I’d much rather deal with a friend who is just being curt than one that is being an ill-tempered grouch!
But on the flip side of the wonderful utility of words when used for precision, transparency, and comprehension are those people or entities that use words to obscure meaning, to hide truth, to make us think and feel something else than what really is being expressed.
For example a government doesn’t want its’ citizens to think too deeply or clearly when it blows people up that it disfavors. So “accidentally” mutilated people become “collateral damage”. Much nicer, but means nothing – which is the intent. You can’t think poorly of “collateral damage”, or at least you have to take the requisite mental steps to make the connection of that term to death, dismemberment, and gore.
Another example is how something like “quantitative easing” substitutes for monetizing debt or creating inflation. We all know that printing money backed by nothing devalues all the existing currency and such activity is counterfeiting and thereby illegal and immoral –except government exempts itself and calls it something else. I can call a donut a hammer, but I can’t pound a nail with it no matter what I call it. So if you say the Federal Reserve is counterfeiting (printing money) and causing inflation, people might question that – hence “quantitative easing”. Such a term obscures what is really happening and doesn’t create the same mental picture in a reader’s mind. Another example, The State’s agents don’t “torture” – that’s much too gruesome. They practice “enhanced interrogations”. The State doesn’t kidnap and unlawfully imprison people – it engages in rendition and prolonged detentions. Less clarity with relatively innocuous mental images associated with those terms. The agents of the State don’t engage in highway robbery – they practice “civil forfeitures”. But they still take your property, money, and assets without ever charging you with a crime and keep it! The State doesn’t covet your land, steal it, and give it to a favored developer – it uses its’ power of eminent domain. All nice and neat.
Ahh, so even words and language have their dark side I suppose. It really comes down to the people using them and the intent behind their use – to obfuscate or to enlighten. To create understanding or to destroy it.
Well I still like words even if some use them to distort and to lie. I think I’ll go have a cup of hazelnut coffee – two of my favorite words.