By Sarah Reichert
It’s an odd little combination of letters. Short but important. Napoleonic, if you will.
A word communicates meaning, represents objects or ideas, and infers talk or discourse.
Written and spoken words are humankind’s greatest contribution to the success of our survival as a species. Words conveyed vital information (don’t eat that berry, its bad juju; twenty buffalo are lounging South of the river, etc.) Humans avoided poisoning, passed down medical remedies, shared weather and herd movement, and offered verbal and written traditions, which allowed for the creation and maintenance of our society and culture.
Words are important to all of us. They can be dangerous and hurtful. Words can be powerful and cathartic. Words fill out the shape of our memories, and build ideas like mortar and bricks build lasting foundations. We can fear words; we can loathe them. We can respect them or embrace them. We can be indifferent to them. Written words, in their elemental form, can hold infinite meaning to all who read them, because they are filtered through each human consciousness and experiences. “My heart hurts,” means different things to a cardio-thoracic surgeon than it does a hopeless romantic.
But more than just the collection of letters and morphemes, a "word" also means a promise. A person gives their word, a sworn intention to do something. Writers give their words and therefore their promises through their work. We promise our readers that we’ll give all of our hearts to our craft, and that we’ll invest the time to do it right. We make a promise of meaning, a promise of depth, a promise to describe but not hinder, and a promise to provoke thought and feeling. Above all, we promise to give something to the reader for the time they invest in us, and our work.
Words are your tools. Some of them are dull from overuse. Some of them are so obscure and unique that readers will need a dictionary to understand what context doesn’t define. (I love getting a chance to learn new words this way, but don’t do it too often, or you come off as pompous and self-important.) Make sure the words that you’re choosing, mean what you think they do. Make sure they convey the feeling of your work, as closely as possible. String your words together with “great care and tact” as Dr. Suess would recommend. They are our promise to the world for the best story we have within us.
What are some of your favorite words?