I am a logophile, a lover of words. When I’m attempting to write something—fiction or non-fiction—I work diligently to dig up the most perfect word from the disorganized quarry that is my mind (especially lately). When I find that prized word, an amazing feeling washes over me. Instead of a runner’s high, I get a writer’s high. My heart pops and stutters. My breath catches in my chest.
On average, the words I love the most aren’t necessarily long ones with complicated origins. Not often choosing lengthy words like perspicacious and parsimonious and preantepenultimate (which, by the way, means third from the end), my preferred words could be easily understood by kindergarteners. Though my favorite words are often only constructed of one or two syllables, they evoke feelings and clearly conjure up a scene for the reader.
I love fanciful words that remind me of the magic of nature, like wind and whisper. I think of invisible, curly threads wafting up and down with a backdrop of a brilliant, blue sky. Ungraspable, no matter how many times you reach out, but you smile broadly as you chase after them.
I love welcoming words that remind me of rocking my babies, like near and held. There’s a warmth to these words, an invited closeness, a safety. When my husband holds me with his strong arms and I bury my face in his chest, I can feel the tenseness in my shoulders relax and a giant sigh escape from deep inside me.
I love lonely words that remind me of ripples in a still pond, like echo and shadow. These words have sound and shape, while holding a certain degree of melancholy. They conjure a vision of a lone hiker on a cliff, shouting his name into an empty canyon as he stares down into the darkness made from the imposing rock faces surrounding it.
But the interpretations of these words are based on my own experiences. You could ask a hundred other people what connections these words make for them, and you’d get a hundred different replies. This is the power of words, and what makes them both life-giving and dangerous. It’s impossible to remove ourselves from our own experiences as we look out at the world, and yet it’s a task we must exercise daily.
The word wind might mean a pleasant, gentle beachside breeze to me, but if you mention it to someone who’s lost everything in a tornado, that person would have a different reaction.
The word shadow might remind me of walking my son to school as we discuss the lengths of our silhouettes, while someone else might interpret shadows to be the presence of overbearing figures in his life.
The word held imparts happiness as I am often the giver and receiver of welcomed embraces, but the idea of being restrained evokes only pain for someone who’s freedom and safety is frequently restricted.
This is why language is so important. We must find the words to build up and empower others, not destroy them so that we seem elevated. Whether it be a voice shouted in peaceful protest echoing off the boarded-up windows of a business or a whisper of encouragement to those near us, the words must be intentional and designed to edify. As author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “When language fails, violence becomes a language.” So now it’s my turn to listen.