Tag Archive | Words

Weekly Update: The Power of Words

I had an interesting conversation regarding a short story that was read by myself and two other people this week.

The story, in a nutshell, was about a student getting sent to the principal’s office at school.  As we were discussing the story, however, things took an interesting turn, not so much in what the story was about or what happened, but because of a few simple words: he mumbled

Now grant it, most discussions aren’t often so focused on the wording of a story, but in this case, the word “mumbled” changed the personality of the character, depending on who you were talking to.  For one, the fact that he mumbled meant that he was apathetic to being sent to the principal’s office.  To the other, the fact that he mumbled signaled that he was angry.  It led to an interesting discussion, and we came to the conclusion that we all saw the character in a completely different light.

It got me thinking about how powerful words…even simple ones…can be.  To most, a mumble is a mumble.  It doesn’t really change the characters or their personalities.  But in this case, since the story was so short, it made the difference between an apathetic person and an angry one, and once the character was changed, the plot of the story started to be looked at in a different light, too.

If anything, it taught me that clarity in writing is something we all need to strive for.  Do the words we use make sense to our readers?  Do they fit the character we’re describing?  Are they adding to the plot or are they taking away?  These are all questions we must take into account when writing, because if a reader thinks our words aren’t making sense, chances are they might not be reading our work much longer.

Have you ever come across a word (or set of words) that confused you?  How do you think it could have been written better?

The Wonderful World of Words

You find a lot of interesting things on the internet.

Funny cats.  Pictures of some actor with his shirt off.  An ad for a free trial of a weight loss program that magically lets people lose half their body weight overnight by hopping on one foot and eating ham rolls.

Okay, maybe I’ve never seen that last one, but I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

But aside from cat memes and movie gifs, the internet is also full of people giving their opinion and broadcasting it to the world.  Said posts can range from being intellectually thoughtful and stimulating to so-bad-you-can’t-help-but-cringe-or-laugh.  The internet world is inhabited by both people and trolls, and to help keep the sanity many practice “netiquette”, which includes the following examples:

  1. DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS (unless you want to portray yourself as angry and in need of a hug).
  2. Don’t post private information on the internet because once it’s out there, it’s out there (and some creepy person will undoubtedly steal something from you).
  3. Be nice and courteous.

Most people tend to follow these rules of netiquette.  We understand that if what a person says doesn’t go over well in real-life, chances are it won’t go over well online, either.  Words are powerful, having the ability to build a person up and bring them encouragement and confidence, or tear a person down, making them feel miserable, hopeless, and discouraged.  Many understand that the words we use are our greatest ways to influence the world.

But sometimes the words we use aren’t the only things we need to be careful of.  Sometimes how we use those words can be just as important.

Yesterday I was reading an article in which the author used satire to bring about his opinion.  It was a well-written article and had plenty of “good” words, but the way he wrote it left many readers confused.  Readers debated with themselves and others about what the author truly meant in his article.  Was he being serious?  Why did he sound so angry?  Was he really angry, or just trying to be funny?  What point was he trying to make?  I admit even I was a bit confused at the article, not discovering it was satire until after reading the last paragraph.

It got me thinking to just how important how we phrase our words can be.  Are we conveying a certain emotion or tone?  Will readers be able to understand what we meant when we said X, Y, or Z?  Do our words create confusion or understanding?  Our words may be perfectly spelled and sound great together, but if the story/article/post as a whole doesn’t come together, it might not do much good.

It sort of reminds me of a t-shirt I once saw at a store.  The shirt had two sentences atop of each other: “Let’s eat grandma!” and then “Let’s eat, grandma!” with the catchphrase “Grammar saves lives.”  As silly as the shirt was, it brought about a good point.  How we phrase our words (or in that case, where we place the comma) can make a difference in the meaning of what we’re trying to convey.  Our words may make sense grammatically, but if they’re presented in a way we don’t mean or if they’re misinterpreted by the reader, our words may do us more harm than good.

A Confession on Writing Christmas Cards (and Why Words Matter)

I’ve heard a lot of people say that confession is good for the soul, so here goes my own…

I’m terrible at sending Christmas cards.

Seriously.  I have a shoe box full of cards I bought practically a decade ago and I’m still sending out the same cards to the same people.  That means everyone (for the past 10 years, give or take) has gotten the same cheesy card with either a singing Santa or a reindeer flying with every computer radar known to mankind strapped to his antlers.

Yeah, it’s pretty sad.  What makes it even worse is I just sign my name, say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and send it out December 24.

That is, if I’m not running late.  (And I usually am…)

So my own terrible procrastinating self aside, I will say that the few Christmas cards I’ve gotten so far this year have been pretty unique from what I’ve gotten before.  You see, usually I get cards that are similar to what I send out (minus Singing Santa and Robo-Reindeer…their cards are much, much nicer…)  But this year, I’m getting hand-written letters (repeat-letters) in the cards.  Like people are writing me, telling me about how they’re doing and asking how I’ve been.

Reading the various stories from family and friends, no matter how little they write, has been…refreshing.  Exciting, even.  I actually care about reading the cards for once instead of glancing at it and sticking it to the wall with a piece of tape.  I know that sounds terrible of me not wanting to read a card when it just has a signature on it, but I’ll be honest-seeing a letter instead of just a name makes me connect to the person who sent the card better.  A story or conversation feels more connected, more intimate, and more fun.  It’s great to hear about all the crazy antics and happy moments that people have experienced in the past year, and it’s making me want to share my own stories with them.  But more than that, their words have inspired me and made me feel joy during an otherwise stressful time of year.

Reading these Christmas letters has made me realize just how powerful-and special-words are.  It’s great to get a Christmas card with just a name-a person simply sending a card shows they care and are thinking of you this holiday season.  But there’s something about words that make a difference.  Words can encourage, can bring joy, can bring healing.  Words can lift up and build.  Words can even save a life and change history.  We often don’t think of little cards or notes (and emails and texts!) carrying weight in our lives, but I would argue that they do.  Have you ever had a bad day only to have someone cheer you up with a joke?  Have you ever felt alone only to get a letter from someone saying that they were there for you?  Have you ever felt so discouraged you felt like giving up only to have someone say to keep going, you can do it?

Words have done a lot of damage to people.  I’m sure all of us can think back on a moment when someone said something mean or wrote something terrible about us.  But just as words can destroy, words can also heal.  It may not be in a Christmas card or a letter, but any form of words-whether it’s a text, in a chat, on the phone, or even in a story, words can make a difference in the lives of others.