A World of Words

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens, pick your poison.

 

How do I love words? Let me count the ways– courtesy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 43rd sonnet. Words have played an exceedingly vital role in my life for as long as I can recall. Written or spoken, they have always had a unique way of getting me into trouble, and an even more unique way of getting me out of it–sometimes the same group of words doing a combination of both.

 

I haven’t always been aware of words being a strength in my life, but I did begin to notice an aptitude for them in middle school, which is when I, without question, found my voice, writing and speaking. Ask any one of my teachers from 6th grade on, I spoke a lot. I should probably call to apologize. At the risk of sounding cliche, words really can accomplish anything. They can motivate, encourage, tear down, transform, frustrate, infuriate, calm, etc. Don’t take my word for it; ask Martin Luther King Jr. how powerful words can be, and then ask Hitler the same thing. Words have power. It’s important to keep them in the right hands. An unelectable individual with a gift for locution, one whom naturally rearranges words to make them appealing to even a trained eye, could very well become undeniably electable. If one stumbles over words like they are literal cracks in the sidewalk, it is unlikely he will achieve what he might be fully capable of, if he could only rid himself of the necessity of words. The language employed in any matter has the ability to make a falsehood true or the truth false. I did not say this was fair, but it is indeed fact.

 

I’m a talker. Always have been and everybody knows it. I tend to overwhelm people who aren’t talkers, disturbing them with my apparent unapologetic hubris. Get to know me and I assure you this is not (usually) the case. I dislike people who are talkers, constantly battling them to get a word in. My best friends are generally patient listeners and my worst enemies are inclined to talk and talk and talk. Nothing grinds my gears more than a person who knows how to talk as well as I do. This, I am aware, is more my problem than it is the fellow talker’s.

 

Since I talk a lot, I do often find myself inadvertently offending another person or biting my tongue. Some might even say I suffer from foot in mouth syndrome. On the contrary, despite my big mouth, I am usually able to fancy talk my way out of any hole I have dug. Pontification is my game. In the same breath, I manage to pontificate my way right into trouble and expound my way right out of it. I determine which strategy is most necessary by skillfully observing the facial expression of my listener. My husband is especially aware of my capableness for grandiloquence as I have been convicted on more than one occasion in our marriage for manipulation to achieve my own way. I promise you, it is done almost completely without my knowledge (almost), requiring a full internal reflection of my wayward ways. Just because I have the ability to manipulate with my rhetoric, does not mean I should. The spoken word is nothing, however, compared to the written word.

 

I collect books, old books mostly. I don’t read them very often. Most of them aren’t classics or page-turners, as much as I wish I had a library full of valuable first-editions. I just like to hold an aged book in my hands, turning the pages, pondering who else in its long history has gazed at those very words. Tinted-paged books are much like gray-haired people, some hold a lifetime of wisdom while others haven’t bothered to open all that often, leaving them empty, with nothing to offer.  On a few occasions, I have found keepsake notes slipped within the pages of an old book. A more intimate, less renowned collection of words, usually meant for just one, tucked away in an ensemble of pages meant for the masses. There is something mysterious about this irony that always leaves me burdened with questions–usually regarding the identity of the writer and the reader of the note.

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A note, or letter, I found in the pages of a Literature textbook from 1905.

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A very small portion of my book collection.

Contemporary novels have their place in my world of words, as well. As I read, I find myself writing down sentences that I find undeniably, perfectly formulated. A quality sentence can make me gaga with glee or, as was often the case as a teacher, a second-rate sentence can cause me to dissolve into despair. John Steinbeck, in my opinion, is the king of syntax. He knocks the breath right out of my chest with almost every painstakingly detailed sentence he writes. If you cannot create his settings exhaustively and without question in your mind as you read, then you are not paying attention. Because of this, his books can be tedious to read for some. It is sometimes more fun to read a book with less detail and more storyline, similar to the abundance of Young Adult fiction available today. These books can satisfy my need for words as well, because when I come across a perfectly formulated sentence, it is somewhat of a surprise.

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My oldest John Steinbeck book from 1952, a second edition of the East of Eden.

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A sentence that caught my eye from the book I am currently reading, The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

 

I have to say the most common way my life has revolved around words would have to be those in the Holy Bible. Despite my love for the words of a talented writer or the thrill I feel when I write my own words, the word of God is the only lexicon that has never let me down. It is the only constant, the only truth, the only unblemished collection of words around, and this goes for us all, not just the word gurus. When I am looking for an easy and motivational pick-me-up, I turn to the words of David in the Psalms. When I am looking to connect with my Father’s character, I turn to the pages of the Old Testament, reminding myself again that God is and always will be faithful. When I am confused and wondering about my Christian journey, I turn to the words of Paul in his epistles. When I realize my complete lack of success in the loving of my husband, Solomon always helps me out in Song of Songs. When I am at a complete and total loss, I just open it, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead me. God’s words are like inhaling the first real breath of spring air after a long and grueling winter. They can flood us with delight or overwhelm us with conviction. Either way, no word spoken or written would have any place in this world at all, if it weren’t for the words of the One who spoke first.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. ~John 1: 1-3

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