General views

Just words

Hemingway‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.  That’s a pretty common phrase, as though great imagery is better than great description. While it’s a nice concept, it is almost entirely rubbish. That’s just my view of course, I can’t paint a picture of my view on that so I’ll write a thousand words or so to explain what I mean. See what I did there?

Words are the lifeblood of civilisation. I’m not aware of too many civilisations that continue to prosper by relying on visual imagery to communicate.  Great art, images and photography are amazing, incredible and when truly great are feasts for one’s eyes. They please your eyes.

All the truly famous or historic images are accompanied by volumes of written words to explain their significance though.  I’m not aware of any great literature that has been transposed into an oil painting or photograph to better illustrate its meaning.  So while the phrase above makes a bold and significant statement. It is actually not true, not for me anyway. What’s my point I hear you ask? My point is just that people should understand the true power of words and their impact on peoples lives.

I’m writing a book. I’ve mapped it out and now I have to fill in the words. The story is good, if I do say so myself, but the true power of it will come from the way I word it. The storyline is just structure. The words are what will engage people in the meaning of the book and dictate their enjoyment of it.

My favourite author is Hemingway. He is my literary idol. My favourite of his works is ‘The old man and the sea’. It’s the simplest, most uncomplicated story I have ever read, yet the most movingly written. It’s one of those books you read in a single sitting and you can visualise every single aspect of the story. You can even feel the heat; you can actually see the heat in his story just by the way he describes it. I’d love to be able to do that.

People don’t spend enough time choosing their words. You’ve heard the phrase ‘choose your words carefully. There is actually nothing you need to choose more carefully. The wrong words, badly chosen and delivered with malice or lack of thought can crush a soul. You cannot do that by showing someone an image. Words and how they are used about us, or to us, or near us, can affect how we turn out as people. People spend years in therapy because of things they may have been consistently told by the wrong or the right people saying the wrong thing, for lack of care, thought or intent. Just words, used wrongly, can ruin lives.

The reason I mention that is because recently the power of the written, or spoken, word has dawned on me properly. Every single thing we think or do, every decision we make, either personally or globally are discussed in words, agreement reached, decisions made. In the world’s corridors of power, words are exchanged and wars declared or peace agreed on a regular basis. The horror starts when the speaking stops and stops when the speaking starts.  ‘The Pen is mightier than the sword’ is another popular debating topic. You can debate the for and against of the topic for the rest of time but the reality is that the sword is only laid down when the ink is dry on the peace accord. The peace will have arisen out of ‘talks’, words used in compromise and conciliation.

The beauty of the words and the use of them though is the way people seek inspiration from them. Great art is wonderful to visit, admire and understand. But I don’t think too many people changed their lives for the better after seeing a nice Picasso or a picture of a flower. The songs you love the most, the ones you recall throughout your life? It’s the lyrics. Of course you like a nice melody and classical music or Jazz is a great escape, either soothing, calming or a soundtrack to a state of mind. But the songs you send to a loved one are to do with the lyrics. If you use music to document moments in your life, I’ll wager the most meaningful of those moments have words attached, lyrics not instrumentals.

Cinema, the movies, film! I don’t think the writers of the films get anything like the credit they deserve. The actors are the names we remember, the most prestigious awards are given to the readers and interpreters of the movies lines, the screen play.  But without the words, the scripts, the lines, the actors would be redundant. The movies pointless and the industry which brings us the greatest shows on earth would be something of nothing. Two hours of moving images with no words is really just conceptual art, there is a very limited appeal for that stuff.

Think about it, your favourite films, the bits from your favourite films. Do you describe the sweeping panorama, the sunset, the bright colour or explosion or helicopter flyby to your friends when you discuss your favourite film? Or do you recall the great lines, the closing scene, and the clever one liners?  The gags, the meaningful quotes, the perfect thing to say at the perfect time? The phrases in the lines you quote again and again. They make you laugh, or cry, or cry laughing, or think or learn or be inspired, even if just for a while. The movies you get lost in for whichever reason you personally love them are almost entirely because of the lines, the script. The writers of those words should get the biggest awards, not the pretty or charismatic people who just have to learn them.

In one way all I have wanted to do here is to draw your attention to and remind you of something people don’t spend enough time thinking about. The power of words, conflict starts when the words run out.

Never run out of words. Learn them and love them. Learn how to use them, unless you really like fighting people, in which case I feel very sorry for you.  If you have children, teach them to read, teach them to be able to articulate their point of view. If you are a teacher, remember you are an educator, you have a massive responsibility for the minds that you are entrusted with, so don’t underestimate the responsibility you have.  The minds that pass through an education system will one day look forward to, or despair of, their future and one of these things is better than the other. Education is the foundation of civilisation. If a teacher is disengaged from their role then they have no place teaching. (I’ll be making a pointed reference to that in my book by the way)

I think what I have said here is pretty straight forward and hopefully makes you think a bit about the importance of what you say to people. It’s very simple, words and how they are used, form, shape and change lives.

I don’t have to paint you a picture do I?

15 replies »

  1. You’re preaching to the converted with me….I’m not a visual person. Art can move me, interest me; music too, but it is the written and spoken word which is vital.

    For years I had to fit facts onto the procrustean bed of the law…it sounds dry and lifeless, but I enjoyed it, finding the right word, the phrase which gives a picture as exact as posssible….
    I enjoy listening to people…where the silences, the pauses, how the words are used can say as much as the words themselves….

    But have you noticed how the world of communication has become more and more visual?

    • Helen, you possibly have hearing as your prime function over Sight , taste and Kinesthesis as I have. TV does not satisfy me much these days , so little is original or fresh. Everything I watch seems to have been pulverised from the past . I shan’t mention punch and judy presenters , incorrect grammar and grating errors. Investigative journalism is almost dead now, thanks to predatory lawyers .TVs now a sort of cud for the mindless , but selected DVDs can work. I listen to MP3 audio books all the time. The combination of voice, characterisation and language works for me. As you say, timing , pauses, verbal dynamics, emphasis and the techniques of the trained actor with naked intelligence are a joy to experience. VCB

      • With your permission, Sandy…

        Yes, Vivienne, hearing is my main mover…and I enjoy listening to BBC radio but have not started on audio books yet…I’ll have to stock up when next in the U.K.
        The T.V. drives me wild with frustration at the waste of such a potentially wonderful means of informing the mind!

  2. My father taught me many years ago that sloppy communication skills reflected sloppy thinking. Because I’ve become too interested in politics recently, I find that words and meaning have become to reflect Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm.

  3. I haven’t read ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ – about time I did methinks. I too have a penchant for words and language. I’d rather have my nose in a book that pointed towards the box in the corner any day 🙂

  4. Wordsmithing is an important skill. More than just communication, the right words can change the course of history.

    BTW, I saw this graffiti outside uni in Jo’burg circa 1990. I think it was to do with HIV/AIDS awareness.

    ‘Penis mightier than sword’

  5. Here’s two words for you: Well Done – Great subject 🙂 After all, It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away……not me personally you understand lol

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