AGES AGO I took a college course titled “History of the English Language.” In the textbook, Pyle and Algeo argue that language development makes us human. They begin with what we know—speech comes first then writing. Simply put, we can talk before we can write. There are spoken languages in fact with no written form. In spoken language, inflection and stress provide intended meaning. Writing itself distinguishes meaning through its process, but it is useless without words.
Words are building blocks, units, ingredients, pieces of a sentence or thought puzzle.
But before it entered an English dictionary, the word word was known by the Greeks as logos. In pre-Socratic philosophy it was the principle governing the cosmos because it encapsulated human reasoning. The Sophists later saw it as the topic of rational argument or the arguments themselves. The Stoics viewed logos as nous—the active, material, rational principle of the cosmos that was identified with God. It was both the source of all activity and generation and the power of reason residing in the human soul. In Judaism, logos becomes the living, active word of God. It is creative power, and it is God’s medium of communication with mankind. In Christianity, logos becomes the creative word of God which is itself God incarnate in Jesus in John 1.
As I write this summer, I am ever conscious of how words are used, and not just mine. The writer of Ecclesiastes 3 might describe it this way—words are used to inspire fear, to bring wisdom, to bring joy, to show emotion, to display passions, to attack or defend, to bring comfort, to encourage, to belittle or tear down, to cause pain, to bring healing, to mend. Whether I write fiction or nonfiction, blogs or essays, speeches or stories, the inherent caution is there. My words, our words, have life as we give them. As writers, readers, and speakers, we share a responsibility to use them well.
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