The Power of Words
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For linguistic communication to work, whether written or spoken, the words used must maintain consistent meaning. Sometimes, specific meaning may change with context, and while at other times, remaining constant across contexts. Whatever the case, effective linguistic communication, requires consistent understanding of meaning between sender and receiver. This is true, even when we use words or phrases that differ from their original, or literal meaning. This is actually fairly common, and works if everyone still understands what is being said.
For instance, the other day, my daughter said to me, "That colour looks good on you. Just about any English speaker, would correctly understand the intent of her statement. The literal meaning of her words was therefore, actually the opposite of her intended and understood meaning. We do that with English all the time, and it works because other English speakers understand the usage. Then, there are words like excellent, superb, awesome, phenomenal, stupendous, brilliant, and amazing. We use these words interchangeably, to indicate something really good. However, these words all actually have different meanings.
These are just a few examples of English words that we commonly use outside of their original meaning.
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This seldom, if ever causes any misunderstandings in day-to-day usage, because we share a common agreement, that these words are now used synonymously. This causes problems in understanding, belief, and behaviour. The word had a very positive meaning that had nothing to do with being afraid. Everyone reading those passages in that time, would have immediately understood that.
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At other times, we consciously, or semi-consciously use language to blur the truth, or to deflect the need for a truthful answer. How are you? Now, I understand that we often use language in these, and similar non-literal, vernacular, socially understood ways. But, what happens when someone takes advantage of that? Telling lies is as old as language itself.
Consciously and wilfully speaking falsehood, whether in an attempt to be kind or sociable, or for more nefarious reasons is a very slippery slope. Consider the following statement:. Think about it a bit.
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You can go round and round on that for ever. If that statement is true, then that statement is false. What is much more dangerous, is when people change the meaning of language to suit their own purposes. We are currently seeing a lot of this within politics, the media, and even business. This wanton fluidity of meaning, with the sole purpose of deception has become known as alt-facts. To lie about whether something occurred or not, is bad enough.
For language to work at all, requires that the meaning of words remain constant, or at the very least, change in predictable, universally understood ways. Language is not only how we communicate with each other, it is also the means by which we internally process our thoughts. When the predictable, universally understood meaning of language is destroyed, we lose not only the ability to communicate clearly, but the ability to think clearly. Predictable, universally understood meaning is absolutely basic and vital.
How many of you have said it to your children? Words have the power to harm or heal, create or destroy, bless or curse. We all know this, even if, for some reason, we tend to deny it out loud. I sang my first public solo, in church, when I was two years old. My father was an exceptional singer tenor , who chose not to follow a career as a professional. My mother, while not as naturally talented, loved to sing while she worked around the house.
So, my ability to sing was never questioned, and always encouraged. Even when my voice slipped, cracked, or broke as a pre-teen, I received only positive feedback. For many years, I just assumed that everyone could sing. It came as quite a shock to me when some of my friends at school seemed unable to sing in tune. It was even more of a shock when they claimed that they could not sing. Practically, everyone has the ability to sing in tune.
So then, why do so many people believe that they cannot sing? Very simply because, when they were still very young, they were told that they could not. Important adults or older siblings , on hearing them sing out of tune, told them that they could not sing. While a sibling may have been less than kind in their intent and delivery of this message, the parents were probably just trying to protect their child from embarrassment.
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Either way, those words held power. During junior school, while I loved sport, I was not a natural.
Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Did you know that during early childhood, the vocal chords are insufficiently developed to consistently hold a tune. The only thing stopping them later in life, is their belief in those early words of power. The power of words. The words that are spoken to us, and the words that we speak to ourselves. Words of power. Governments, and leaders of state have the power to form social, national, and even international reality by the power of their words.
Life or death, war or peace, poverty or prosperity for millions of people, hang on the words of people in places of power. In our western, democratic system of government, people achieve positions of power because of our words.
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During the conversation, we must listen patiently, speak tactfully, and tell the truth as we understand it. We must align our words, voice inflection and tone, eye expression, body language, and actions with our inner awareness in an honest exchange.
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