“All words are ideas to hang pegs on.” -Aesop
I love words.
I love that a combination of printed letters, together, form a word that holds much meaning. I am always careful to pick my words, intending them to say exactly what I mean for them.
Lewis Carroll wrote, in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”
How true this is for me! No more, no less. It is not the quantity of words that I love. It is their precise meaning. “Words should be weighed and not counted” (Yiddish Saying). It is that the simplest choice of a word can so entirely change what you mean to say. This love affair with language has caused me, often, to think carefully before I speak. Weren’t we told to do that growing up? I mull over my word options as if they were delicious delicacies. My mind thrills in the choices just as my mouth salivates with the aroma of something yummy. I mean what I say.
Unfortunately for me, words are not so carefully tended or admired by all. Many people speak with such carelessness that words spew forth as shallow as a baby’s wading pool. Empty. Void. Meaningless. This is the greatest tragic use of the word, tossed out in all vanity and selfishness. The speaker has forgotten that words are not just for them… but for the listener as well. “The more the words, the less the meaning, and what does that prophet anyone?” said the most wise man of all time, King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 6:11).
How I have often wished that I could go around communicating in whatever language piqued my fancy! To make up sentences using a variety of languages would be divine! For example, I want to insert any one of the four Greek words for “love” in place of my English variant. How wonderful to use a word that specifically points to the kind of love I feel, rather than grouping them all into one sad and lonely utterance. How fantastic it would be to say, “I sure Phileo chips and salsa!” Then I could more appropriately say, “I eros you,” to my wonderful husband. Different loves.
Actually, I have a small confession. We use multiple languages in our house. We all speak, on varying levels, Spanish, English, Sign Language, and much smaller portions of Hebrew, Italian, French, and a couple others. We use them to say what we mean. It’s marvelous. A guest in our home may overhear (or, in the case of Sign Language, see) us communicating affection in any given language at any given time. My three-year old has caught on and begun to create his own language and words to best express his thoughts and feelings. (On that note, I think most toddlers create language as they too, having been “mute” as babies for so long, enjoy expressing themselves in so many ways.)
Mark Twain said it best, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter-’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
I will conclude this little dedication to the word with a “word” of caution. Many people have been hurt by words. Many have been so hurt that, sadly, words hold little value because the action behind them proved to be truer. I have experienced this loss of assurance in words handed to me as well. I have come to the realization that it is not the word that is false, but the heart of the person wielding it. Thus, I have chosen to be a person whose words speak their intention, speak the truth of my heart, so that my deeds are in accordance.
Nathaniel Hawthorne summed it up well when he said, “Words-so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!”
May we choose to be people of profound integrity, honoring the gift of language that we have been given, being good ambassadors of our endowment of verbal understandings, and self-controlled enough to employ them at the best possible time in the best possible way. “A word out of season may mar a whole life” (Greek Saying).