Words have power. It does not come from the vowels and consonants which form them, nor is it born out of the resonance produced in our ears when they are spoken. The power of words comes from the objects, experiences, ideas and truth which they summon in our minds when we hear them. These connections are potent and have the ability to move and shape our lives as we respond to the words which are spoken to us, or which we whisper to ourselves.
We begin forming these associations as we learn language. Connections are made in our memories from our experiences to the sound of a word, which then informs the power a word might have in our lives. For example, if a baby touches a hot stove and burns her hand, mom immediately cries out, “That is HOT, HOT, HOT!” She will then in all likely hood scoop up the child and comfort her. If her burn is more than a slight reddening of the skin, the mothers will also tend to her wound. All this nurture will not erase from the child’s mind the connection between the pain she experienced on her hand and the word Hot. She has now formed a connection between an experience of an object and the word hot which will exercise power over her for the rest of her life. All someone around her needs in the future when she is approaching an object is call out the word HOT and she will retract her hand to avoid being burned.
This is a wonderful capacity we have as humans to use language to communicate to one another significant truth regarding the objects, experiences, ideas and truth which shape our lives. Part of what knits us together as people and communities is the development of a common language which allows a single word to be able call up the same idea of what that word represents.
This isn’t true of all words. Some words can lend themselves to interpretation, even very simply words. Think about it. What image comes to your mind when I say the word blue? Is it the blue of the sky? Do you see the deep blue of the ocean? Do you envision the cobalt blue of the vase which adorned your grandmother’s windowsill? A simple word like “blue” can mean so many things to so many people, and while two people are nodding their heads in agreement, they may actually be entertaining entirely different images at the mention of the word.
Still, there are a few words which may appear to be so universally understood we all seem to form the same idea in our mind when they are spoken. Take the word “No” for example. I think the vast majority of us would attach a negative connotation to the word when we hear it. The word No represents not getting what we want. It implies rejection. It is a thwarting of our will. We can interpret it someone withholding or holding out from us. When people say no, we tell them they are not being constructive. They are tearing things down. Even parents of preschool children, who use the word quite often to keep their children from harm, get tired of saying it. They might ask in a moment...