Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The power of words

I love this ad from Australian Post. It reminds me of my Nono, who not only used to give the best hugs, but he was the only one in my family who truly understood my "need" to write. Before my Dad bought me a beautiful roll-top oak desk one Christmas (acceptance that despite his pleas I would not change my career choice), my Nono bought me a quill. I used it only to write him letters.

My Nono wrote back in a confusing mix of Italian and English, but I didn't need to understand his language to translate the underlying messages of love and support. Words are pretty powerful.

That's why I don't understand, sometimes, why as a society we choose words designed to hurt. The average human uses around 370 million words throughout their lifetime - and just under half of those are negative. I'm not making this up - that statistic comes straight from the October / November issue of BBC Magazine (another guilty pleasure).

Words have evolved over time, often changing in meaning. In the 13th century, for instance, the word 'gyrle' simply referred to a child, irrespective of their gender. And in the 12th century, 'buxom' meant you were humble and obedient. And how about awful - one of those now negative words? Around 1300 AD, 'awful' related to awe, so something 'awful' commanded respect.

As a writer, I understand the importance of word choice. Each sentence, paragraph, page is crafted (at least hopefully) with utmost respect for strong verbs, powerful adjectives, and appropriate nouns. And as a reader, I am fully aware of how words can be used to convey emotion - pain, sadness, happiness, love. My favourite authors are masters of stringing together words that create magical imagery or inflict utter fear.

There is much truth to the saying: The pen is mightier than the sword.

In today's world of technological advance, it is more imperative than ever that we are all careful in how we wield our weapons of language. While my Nono had to wait several weeks for my letter to reach him, emotion (good and bad) can now be conveyed with a quick click of the send button.


  1. This is really sweet Dawn. I <3 it!

  2. What a gorgeous image. I love it.

    And I agree about the need to think before hitting "send". It's even harder to retract words committed to print than said aloud, and goodness knows I've had to do enough back-pedalling with the latter variety.

  3. While traveling in Europe this summer I was in a community that spoke only Italian... The only word I knew was "thank you." I thought to myself, what if in our daily lives we could only say "thank you." What a wonderful world this would be :-)