Friday, 01 February 2019 13:14

COLUMN: The power of writing and words

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As proven many times, if you put letters together, you can form words. If you string words together, you get paragraphs. Assemble a number of paragraphs together, and you get a story. If you put the stories together, you have a lifetime.

I have a love of the written word. While the spoken word isn't too shabby, the written word is instantly recognized and almost as instantly understood. Some words are meaningful and some are nonsensical. It can be argued that some words that were once meaningful are now nonsensical. I'm not sure about that being truth, but I'm sure that it is an opinion worth discussing. 

Each of these columns I have written have been between 600 words (on the short end) and 1,000 or so words (when I am feeling long-winded). I have written a column each week for about three years now. This column is not about mathematics and is about words, so I will let one of you smarty pants people do the math there. All I know is it's a whole bunch of words. 

Each of the words is carefully chosen. I figure some of you might debate that, but I assure you the language is deliberate and thought out. There are words that are chosen syllabically, so the column will have a particular cadence when read aloud. There are words that are chosen for comedic reasons. I don't imagine you'll see words like “gooney” and phrases like “what a maroon” in a column that is meant to be serious in tone. Sometimes, my words are put into sentences that run on in a manner that infuriates editors, but is done deliberately because I mean it to be read that way and not the way the textbooks told me years ago how it should be written. See what I did there? 

There are words now, in our culture, that are no longer written or spoken. These words are considered to be socially unacceptable. A number of them are inflammatory in nature and in the interest of good taste, I will not mention any of them here. I'm not caving into to pressure, as I am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment, however, this column is supposed to be relatively light in nature this week. I'll save the controversial column for another week. 

What happens, as time passes, and cultures change, our vocabulary evolves. While more noticeable with spoken words, it also shows in the written word. As our culture changes, the form and delivery of the written word changes. Read fiction from the  late 19th century and compare it to a best-seller from this week. While the words themselves may not have changed alphabetically, the meaning has evolved. It gets problematic when older generations get confused when the terms they are familiar with are used in a totally unfamiliar way. Someone not long ago informed me that Cooper, our cat (and occasional star of this column) was “sick.” Cooper was feeling just fine and was his usual rambunctious self. I was told that “sick” meant “cool” or “awesome” and it was about the best compliment Coop could have gotten. 

Today, I got an email from a reader letting me know how much a column meant to her. I hear this from time to time, but I don't let it go to my head. I get reminded that an equal number of people think my column is perfect for lining the bottoms of their parakeet cages, so it keeps me in check. It reminds me that these words, put together into sentences, and then into paragraphs sometimes have more power than even I give them credit for. I appreciated the email and the sentiment and I used words to share the credit with two English teachers who encouraged my love of words and language. 

I read a lot about how print journalism is dying. I'm here to tell you it's not. Those who do this for a living and who have welcomed we amateurs into the fold have a simple love for the word. It's not about ego or awards. It's not about being recognized. It's about power. Not that kind of power. I figured that's where some of you would go. It's about the awesome power of putting letters together and forming words. It's about taking those words and forming sentences. It's about taking those paragraphs and putting them together to tell a story. Your story. My story. 

Words can hurt, but they can also heal. That, my friends, is the power of the word. 

 

Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.