Which Word? The Power of Speech
Posted May 4th, 2012
Have you ever said a word over and over again, until it sounds weird, and wrong? Go ahead and try it now, here's a good one: pancake. As you are saying it loud, you hear your voice and your mouth begins to grow tired of the same formation. The sounds start to run into eachother and then, the word is rendered silly. Pancake. Pancake. Pancake? Pancake?!
It has been said that the British poet Matthew Arnold toured America in 1883. He was offered a plate of pancakes, which he passed on to his wife, and commented, "Do try one, my dear. They're not nearly as nasty as they look." Ah, but what if he said "tasty"??
Meaning for words can be found in dictionaries, but meaning is mainly contextual. A child can say, "I'm starving!!", and the child's parent will correct them, saying, "You are not starving, you are quite healthily fed. Think of all the children in _______ country that really are starving." This is a pretty common conversation that could have a variety of context. Examples: the child might have been too busy to finish lunch properly; the child might be going through a growth spurt; the child might be really impatient knowing dinner is going to take forever before it is served because said parent is busy putting away the groceries and hasn't even started dinner yet.
Let's go back to "pancake". What pops into your mind comes from your relationship with pancakes. How you like them best, variety of ingredients, whether you love/hate them, if they really do make good frisbees when left out for hours on the counter...
Socrates said, "To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge." In other words, things aren't always what they seem on the surface, you know? ;)
Think about it. We all have our own truth, and we use words that mean truth to us, and expect others to understand that. You can say a word, or a sentence, and expect a response. And someone will give you a response with their own version of truth.
But there are layers, context that is important to peel away to have deeper understanding. It is as though we are all walking around with onionheads.
With that in mind, it is important to take the time to understand your own truth, and another's truth. Otherwise you might miss vital meaning.
Patrons walk into the library either wanting to be left alone and knowing exactly what it is that they are looking for, or they know they need help. "Do you have...?" or "Tell me where...." are the most common beginnings of sentences, and it is crucial for both the question-asker and the answer-giver to take the time to understand one another. Word choice is very important and so is meaning. "Books about cooking" can open up a myriad of possibilities, in many different directions. If the answer-giver assumed "cookbooks", but the question-asker meant "history of cooking", then the convesations has to start all over. The end goal, of course, is two smiling, thankful people, both knowing that the mission was accomplished -- that understanding was acheived.
And this goes for everyday conversation as well. And that doesn't even touch on what is NOT being said in body language or behavior. Multiple layers.
All this deciphering takes time and patience. And practice.
Maya Angelou said, "Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."
In other words, choose words you must, so choose wisely. :)