Words, Words, Words: The Power of Language
Writing is a tool of communication in which we express ourselves through carefully chosen words and genres – with conventions that we follow (or break – depending on where you stand) – to get across whatever message we want to get across. It is also, as a tool, more efficient in terms of how we can structure our messages – one can see how evident we develop our arguments through writing, how deep we can bring it, how effectively we can express ourselves. It’s different from speech because speech is spontaneous, prone to fillers, and to slips of the tongue. Writing should then, ideally, be an effective form of communication.
But of course, everything isn’t always going to flow perfectly. We encounter frustrations, writers’ blocks, we forget which words we need to use or we cannot figure out how effectively we can express ourselves in certain ways. It can get taxing, and we just end up getting angry at ourselves for being unable to express ourselves through our language.
But isn’t that interesting? Through language, through words, we can talk to people, and show them what we think. Like we said earlier, however, language is frustrating because, as much as it has infinite potential in terms of how we can express and give ideas, it is also limiting. How?
The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Language develops with the culture from which it springs, with the people who use it, and with the world that moves by it. So if you have a limited grasp of your language, you will certainly have a hard time. But even if you do have a large vocabulary pool, and are very eloquent in speaking and writing a particular language, you are still bound by culture and by the words that you use. Frustrating, isn’t it? That’s why writing is rewarding and inventive – you attempt to transcend the boundaries that language poses for the writer, and that isn’t always a walk in the park. We have a hard time communicating our ideas to people who are not from the same background and worldviews as ours, and we attempt to find equivalent ideas in their world to put their perspectives in line with ours.
But what does this have to do with writing?
Words are powerful. Very powerful.
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.
– Yehuda Berg
You must realize that you have to use words responsibly. Or, hopefully you do already realize that, except it pays to repeat it again and again – words are so powerful they can affect so many things and effect so many things, and some of these are consequential, some inconsequential. Regardless, words have effects that can never be absolutely disregarded. Of course we are familiar with the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword” – writing can forge relationships as much as it can ruin them, can contradict ideas as much as it can support them. We have words that can shape our reality, words that can alter our worldviews.
When it comes to writing stories, especially, words and language have a kind of power that’s too potent to ignore. You shape your own worlds and deliver your own thoughts through the stories that you write, and this, in itself, demonstrates the power of language – language helps you invent things and make them real. You create through language, you add flesh to skeletons through language, you enliven through language. Through writing, you pin down on paper ideas that are too fleeting, you organize them, you add so much to them that they can be considered real, even, or part of your readers’ reality. Harry Potter is so powerful as part of the literary make-up of the world because through the world that it is written in, through the language that it was expressed, and through how the language was used, Hogwarts, Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Potterverse becomes real. The Boy Who Lived may as well have lived on Privet Drive, somewhere, sometime. Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland is an equally wonderful specimen in terms of its language use – Carroll’s inventiveness and the words he made up eventually bled into the English vocabulary.
So remember, the point is this: we, as writers, are responsible for the words and the language that we use to shape the worlds we want to make. We should be responsible and aware of their effects. Most of all, though, we should never forget the value of the words we use.
Language is powerful. And, like the phrase in Spider-Man goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”