On the usefulness of words

It’s an odd thing for me to say, maybe, but I find I’m putting less and less stock in the usefulness of words. You’ll often see writers say words are powerful, and that’s true, but often they’re powerful for the wrong reasons. These days, we’re more likely to read words on the recommendations of algorithms than people.

Unless used carefully, words can have a tendency to divide rather than unite; to mislead rather than inform; to push readers to the fringes rather than draw them to the middle. Writers are told to drop qualifying words that might soften the impact of their message, as if we don’t live in a world of infinite nuance. Perhaps the message isn’t the all-important thing. Compare the power of words to end an argument to the power of a hug or putting the kettle on.

I used to have faith in the potential of words to perfectly encapsulate ideas, but I think I’d rather read words that spark ideas rather than contain them. We expect the reader to interpret meaning exactly as the author intended – a burden we’d never place on the audience of a painting or symphony.

But I don’t despair. In some ways this is liberating. I’ll keep writing, because it’s probably too late for me to start something else. But forgive me if I approach the empty page a little differently than I used to.

Author: James

Founded upon the observation of trifles