words mean more powerofwords

“A word aptly uttered or written cannot be cut away by an axe.” ― Nikolai Gogol <Dead Soul>s


“Word power can plow through acres of cornfields,

Paragraphs cut like warm steel” – Jurassic 5 (song: What’s Golden)


Well … this is my ode to words.

I admit … I love words. I love the way they feel on the tongue and ear. I love how you remember the right ones … and the wrong ones. I love how words can create images out of nothing … and rediscover memories of things long forgotten.


I may show flippant disregard for grammar and punctuation <note: I do just that> but I am relentless in the pursuit for the right word or words.



When used well there may be nothing sweeter to the ear.


Anyway. Some things to think about.


Think about this <first>:  we have all been at some point where you just cannot find a word … when something is just on the tip of your tongue but you just cannot find the right word.

And yet …



Think about this <second>: It is estimated that there are over 500,000 words in the English language, but the average person’s vocabulary is only between 2000 and 6000 words. This means we use less than 2% of our language.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm … by any test measure I have ever seen … 2% would be a failing grade.

And yet …



Think about this <third>: while we may only use 2% of all words available <and maybe that translates into about 12% of all words that are actually practical to use> I would suggest that the words we use … we use too often <especially can, can’t, always and never>.

In addition, I believe we under use the really good words. As a subset of that thought … I believe we do not use enough inspiring words.

And yet …



words navigate lifeThink about this <fourth>: as it relates to the last thing I said <not enough inspiring words used> what is worse is that the English language has twice as many words to describe negative feelings as it does positive ones. Therefore in your 2% you have a disproportionate amount of negative words in your file of ‘words to be used.’

And yet …



Think about this <lastly>: I used hip hop group <Jurassic 5> and Russian novelist <Gogol> to make a point. Words, used well by anyone, are powerful.



But when you do find the right words to say or write? They cannot be cut away with an axe.


Pushkin wrote:

Precision and brevity – these are the two virtues of prose. It demands matter and more matter- without it, brilliant expressions serve no purpose. In this it differs from poetry.


Written or oral … words can be subtle and patient or move swiftly and sparingly from thought to thought.



With that thought in mind I will share a thought from Montaigne:


“I happened the other day upon this piece of fortune; I was reading a French book, where after I had a long time run dreaming over a great many words, so dull, so insipid, so void of all wit or common sense, that indeed they were only French words: after a long and tedious travel, I came at last to meet with a piece that was lofty, rich, and elevated to the very clouds; of which, had I found either the declivity easy or the ascent gradual, there had been some excuse; but it was so perpendicular a precipice, and so wholly cut off from the rest of the work, that by the first six words, I found myself flying into the other world, and thence discovered the vale whence I came so deep and low, that I have never had since the heart to descend into it any more. If I should set out one of my discourses with such rich spoils as these, it would but too evidently manifest the imperfection of my own writing.” – Montaigne ‘of the education of children’


And Fall Out Boy said this:


… ‘my pen is the barrel of the gun, remind me which side you should be on.'”Fall Out Boy “The Pros and Cons of Breathing”


And Mark Twain said this:


“Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual.”



Words are things of thought and yet they are also physical things.

They are axes or rapiers or velvet or soft breezes or whatever instrument you would like to make them.


The more we understand that, and know that, the better we will understand how we affect others with our words.

And maybe the more we understand that the more we will attempt to affect our own vocabulary <i.e., improve it>.Words to Savor


For using the right words may suggest a lot about ourselves … but possibly more important is the fact they are stimulus generating a response.

And while Montaigne so eloquently suggested ‘a long and tedious travel’ with dull and insipid words as his companion, he also elevated to the clouds with other words.


Stimulus and response.


A nice simple thought to keep in mind with words.


And, yes, there are right words & wrong words & passive words & active … or intense … words all of which are arrows in your stimulus quiver.



But let’s get back those right words.

Yowza <I am fairly sure that is not really a word>.


The right words at the right time do create intensity.


And by right words I mean that even though several words could work in a situation, and those words may actually be synonymous, they all have different shades of meaning and therefore can elicit exponentially different responses.


Sometimes we get lazy.


And we use the ‘easy word.’

And we should take a moment and be more choice full … and seek the word that conveys the intended message … with intensity.


What often make this most challenging is that often words are not just words.

As with many things in Life these days … black and white, right or wrong, true or untrue … has become blurred.


Translation? Many words have shades of meanings.




Choosing the right word is important.


“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  – Mark Twain


Words are more than a means of expressing an idea. They are more active than that … they become powerful tools of implication and involvement … and, at its worst, deception and manipulation.


As words are used the moment can be captured  by something other than a question of definitions and meanings and intent … but rather they become mechanisms of knowledge transfer and emotional involvement <which I would like to point out are key indicators to cognitive learning and the development of attitudes>.


The emotionalism <not really sure that is a word> of word usage permits it to almost reach a level of activism when used properly.


There is a point where you set words loose with a single minded purpose.

Those times when you send a word or two out into the forest on a hunt for an intense reaction.


And there are times where you set words loose with a more general purpose in mind.

Those times you are still hunting for a reaction … whether you like it or not.


My point?words are powerful

Words have an effect. Always.



I am not suggesting using and choosing the right words is easy.


“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.” ― Stephen King <Different Seasons>


But here is my point.


It becomes easier if we actually know more than the 2% of what is available to us to communicate. It becomes easier for two reasons:

–          You know more ways, and words, to express what you are saying

–          The person who is listening will have access to more ways to understand



In the end I will have to say I love words.


And I love when I occasionally use them well.


And I love it if I can expand my word choice to beyond the typical 2% of those available <and I will relentlessly pursue being at some place more than 2%>.


But, in general, my philosophy can be encapsulated in something I sent to someone in an email:


“Words can be used like swords or soft kisses. But most often they are tortured by people so they scream in such pain that people wince as they read or hear them. Therefore … the less words I use … the more likely I can spare people pain.” – Bruce McTague


I truly admire people who know what to say and how to say it.

To me … listening to great speakers is almost as good as listening to great music  … and reading the right words is almost as good a feeling as eating your favorite food after starving for several days..


And while I imagine I hover somewhere near the 2% mark <aspiring to be better> let me end with my three favorite words:






words too many wordsSilence.

I had to chuckle a little because it took me a long time to name three words … and then only to end with ‘silence’?


Silence can speak volumes, shout louder than anything with an exclamation point and even Bach used silence to carry a melody <which seems counter intuitive>.


I imagine I should end here because silence may actually be the most powerful intensely right unspoken word.


<go learn more words>

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Written by Bruce