The Way We Word

How difficult it can be to find the perfect thing to say or write, exactly when you need to say or write it. But thank goodness for words, whether written or spoken.
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How difficult it can be to find the perfect thing to say or write, exactly when you need to say or write it. But thank goodness for words, whether written or spoken. They are like music when silence is deafening. Words connect people even when they are alone.

The spoken word can seem more profound - it emanates from inside of you so it is quite of-the-moment, and it is enhanced by tone and body language. But it is arguably less reliable because, unless recorded for posterity, it can be misremembered or denied later. The written word has a undeniable staying power and a rather comfortable permanence. There is no body language to embellish it and once it's down on paper, it's there for good. Penned words sit just so on the conscience, and no matter how many times those words are read, they leave the same footprint.

Yet despite that power, the spoken word is truly the foundation of human communication. Hell, whole lifetimes can be based upon it. The two little words "I do" cement a union forever while the mere whisper of "goodbye" can break it apart.

Media, in all its forms, forces words into our ears and eyes through our televisions, onto our breakfast tables with the morning paper, in our email inboxes, and even into our peripheral sight as we drive down the road. It is a rare person who is immune from the touch of its fingers. And it is not surprising, then, that we live in a state of constant word-awareness.

The term "political correctness" wouldn't have come to be if we didn't pay so much attention to words. George Carlin might not be so controversial if not for his "7 words you are not allowed to say." William Safire wouldn't fascinate readers with archaeologist-like exploration of etymology. Patricia O'Conner penned an entire column on the word "like" because it has so many uses and meanings. And that is, like, a cool thing because we all use the word "like" so very often and never take the time to appreciate its utility.

The adage "actions speak louder than words" is burned into our collective conscience despite its blatant irony; speaking or writing words is action. But the written word can trump the spoken word by turning it into something accurately referred to at a later date. What, then, is the power of the spoken word if not followed by tangible action, i.e. some form of proof that it was uttered? And moreover, that is was uttered with sincerity? It is one of the great lingering questions that will undoubtedly linger on.

When a politician is a great orator, he or she can inspire people to march, cheer, debate, or vote. But great speeches must ultimately be backed up by action or all trust is lost. "Mission Accomplished, " when uttered by President George W. Bush, became an infamous phrase because it was nothing more than a costumed, warship proclamation when soldiers were still dying. In a court of law, claiming that someone said something is merely hearsay, not proof (unless there exists an audio copy or written transcript.)

The same can be said for matters of the heart. Hearing words of love is a powerful thing, but words can drift off and get lost in the atmosphere if not grounded by action. That is precisely why "I want to marry you" is proven by the giving of a ring, and ultimately by marriage itself. And also why "I'm sorry" can sound like knee-jerk courtesy without a subsequent change in behavior. "I'll call you later" can make you feel excited, but when that call doesn't come, you feel deflated.

On the flip side, when you hear certain words spoken, the mere fact that they're said aloud acts as some proof of their veracity. When someone says "I love you" for the first time in a relationship, the whole landscape changes. When a lover says, "I miss you," you feel it at your core. When someone calls you, or simply answers their phone, or quickly returns your call, you can feel butterfly happy, knowing they're not 100% averse to talking to you. When someone special asks about your day, you sense that they actually care about it. Likewise when you receive a compliment on your appearance by the very person you want to look good for, you feel terrific.

The same can certainly be said for the written word, too. Nothing beats getting a letter in the mail. Or waking up to an email from someone you like. There is certainly no one reading this piece who hasn't enjoyed the immediate gratification of instant messaging. Sometimes just seeing "hi" pop up on your screen can make your entire day. A friend sent me an email that contained a link to an incendiary article and it ultimately led us into a lively, thought-provoking debate that changed my opinion about certain matters.

It is because of the innate power of words that we feel destitute without them. When people lose a loved one, they often say they'd sacrifice huge things (such as limbs) to hear the person's voice just one more time. They mean it, by the way.

If you go from a frenetic, busy lifestyle to a quiet, toned-down atmosphere, most often there is part of you that misses the 'attention'. After a breakup, you dearly miss the emails, phone calls, and other communication. Sure, there are days we wish the phone would stop ringing and our inboxes would quit pinging and we're tired of inane conversations engaged in merely for courtesy or out of obligation. But we answer the phone and reply to the emails and have those talks because the exchange of words keeps the current flowing in our personal world. And without that current you have stagnancy, and that is never a good thing.

So, now might be a great time to speak or write something to someone who would love to hear from you. It might not move mountains at first, but it just might make their day.

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