A word creates a thousand pictures.
I like this twist on the maxim about pictures being worth a thousand words. I have gotten into hot water over a single word. A word I have used has made a person cry. Some words have been taken out of context and others have captured the precise meaning behind my feelings. I have been involved in conversations where an individual, in frustration, has thrown up their hands exclaiming,
“It’s all Semantics!”
Exploring the meaning of words has been a pastime, a hobby, a passion, a vocation (when I taught elementary school aged special needs children).
I appreciate the nuances of meaning in other languages and love when I am introduced to a new word that has entered the lexicon of my mother tongue. For example, in my conversations in the late 80s, I tried to use glasnost, a Russian word meaning transparency, in an effort to feel I belonged to the efforts of change in Communist Europe. That makes me a word poser I guess, but it is not my intent to use words as a mask, only to help me express who I am in as honest a way as possible.
A single word can be so simple yet so complex. U.S. President Bill Clinton once famously said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Elements of culture can have a profound impact on how a word is interpreted or used. Some words become exclusive to a particular group. Some words have been isolated in usage to the point of being socially quarantined for fear of offending, for example the ’N’ word.
A listener’s personal history may be triggered by a particular word causing them to spiral off on a mental journey and totally lose track of the current discussion. This can be where a discussion can become more about, “but this is what you said!” and less about finding common ground and understanding through meaning. It’s a wonder we can have a conversation at all without a dictionary or thesaurus in our hand, but that would be impossible, silly, formal or unintentionally snobbish.
In another lifetime I may have enjoyed devoting more time to the formal study of etymology, but in the end it’s the semantics of word use; the coming to a mutually agreed understanding of the meaning behind the word choice that fascinates me, every time I have a conversation with another English speaking person.
Yesterday someone surprised me with this phrase; “My word is my bond.” Imagine if there was ever a time when what someone said was taken as true because trust was inherent. Even the phrase, ‘You can take my word for it’ is suspect in our modern world, sounding like something a used car salesman might utter to close the deal.
Words can cement a relationship if they have a mutually understood meaning. You might feel I ‘get’ you when we are working from the same cleverly designed and shared internal dictionary. At that point you might say, “Word!”.