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For The Love Of Words

I've been thinking lately about how people interpret others' use of words.  Being able to speak well--intelligently and clearly--is good, right?

If it's so good, how did we (USA) end up with a President who tripped over his words constantly?  Why are politicians who speak well so often looked upon with suspicion?  I mean, besides the fact that people look at all politicians with suspicion.

Maybe it's that many people don't see a reason to get really good at words for telling the truth.  After all, if something is true, you don't need to say it beautifully, do you?  By that thinking, the only reason to practice using words well is to lie.

I have trouble imagining that attitude, but it would explain some things.

But, just in case any of my readers wonder why else people might want to be good at words, I will share a few more thoughts.

I think that clear communication is a perfectly reasonable goal in and of itself.  There's so many ways for your meaning to go astray if you aren't aware of how grammar affects meaning, of how people in different areas use the same words differently, of puns and double-entendres, of the connotation as well as the denotation of words, and

More than that, words are, in essence, magical, in that they can change the world.  Think about it--words shape our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions.  And there is nothing that has changed the Earth more than human actions while we've been around.  Sure, we could all be wiped out by cosmic mischance, but until and unless that happens, our words have power.

But the people who are best at words, in my experience, simply love words.  They love the sounds, the rhythms, the fact that these unlikely sounds have meaning.  They care about their use, their history.  They care about all the poetry and stories that are given form with words. 

So, why do you care about being good with words?

And if you have other thoughts about why people are suspicious of people with a "silver tongue", I'm interested in hearing that too!


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2009 11:17 am (UTC)
Language is our oldest and most complex technology. It can take a lifetime to master.

And those who do may face rejection from those who don't or can't.
Sep. 18th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
"may"? You're an optimist. IMHO, the question isn't whether, but how often.

Though a true master can mimic awkwardness, and learn new dialects. One could argue that awkward-standard-American is a dialect. I'm not sure if I like that theory, mind you.
Sep. 18th, 2009 11:43 am (UTC)
I think part of the reason we are suspicious of people who are good with words is that concentrating on the words means that you spend less time concentrating on what you say with them. Someone in love with words may use them merely to hear the sound of them, or because they are delighted by them, like a painter who likes to slop paint together because it's fun or pretty rather than because they believe in something.
Sep. 18th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting thought. But you can generally tell the difference between someone who is just playing with color, and someone who is trying to tell a story. Not that just playing with color is bad, in art, though I do like art that tells a story.

I'm not sure that spending time concentrating on the words means you must spend less time concentrating on what you say with them. I know people who concentrate on words because they care very much what they say with them.

But so often in our society, people assume it's "either/or" and ignore the possibility of "both".
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 18th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Re: More Jay Heinrichs
Ooh--thanks for the links. I'll check him out!
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 18th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
I don't think W was one of our smarter presidents, but I also think he played dumb, and spoke that way, to some extent, on purpose.

And one can talk simply while respecting words enough to say them correctly. In theory, at least.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 19th, 2009 04:17 am (UTC)
Well, I'm with you there! I spent a lot of my life trying to learn how to use words better, to tell stories, to make verse, to be clear and accurate. I can imagine other ways to get my message across, and try to learn stuff like body language, but don't want to replace being good with words; I want to add to it.

And I very much agree that words are key to success in poetry, even moreso than in fiction.

However, it seems other factors are very important to success in politics.
Sep. 19th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
I had another thought -- or rather, I remembered something George Orwell said in the appendix to "1984," "The Principles of Newspeak":

"...It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, all heretical thought -- that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc -- would be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.... Newspeak was designed not to extend but to *diminish* the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum...."

If what Orwell said is true about words and thought (and I believe it), then someone who speaks better, with a larger vocabulary and more complex grammar, is obviously thinking thoughts that are not the same as those of a listener with more restricted use of language.

Different is dangerous to those who believe their way is the right way and all other ways are wrong.

Sep. 19th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's a scary analog to my theories about "one true way"-ism.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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