Monday, November 14, 2011

The Power of Words

Words have power. They can make someone’s day. (“You have beautiful eyes.”) Or, they can break someone’s heart. (“I don’t love you anymore.”) We writers know about proper sentence structure and how to place our carefully chosen words within a sentence to create the effect we want. And we strive to do that in our novels.
But what about in our daily interactions with others? Do we stop and think how we want to phrase something before we open our mouths or type a quick reply to an email? Sometimes, it’s not what we write or say but how we do it. Communicating our thoughts to others so they understand exactly what we mean can be difficult; misunderstandings happen all the time and, occasionally, despite our best intentions, people misinterpret our words. It happens; we can’t control the world.
There was a forward going around online a while back which suggested there should be a font for sarcasm. Who knows? Maybe there should be. I do know that a lot of people use the smiley face symbol to lessen the impact of words which are blatantly sarcastic, instead of taking responsibility for what they mean. I prefer honesty; say what you mean and mean what you say. :) (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)
A few days ago, I had the radio on while I vacuumed and dusted my apartment. I like to hear lively music when I clean house. A commercial came on and I only caught a couple of words. I distinctly heard “lighthouse keeping.” Now, I happen to love lighthouses so my interest was immediately piqued. I had watched a special on TV not long ago about an old lighthouse in Maine where you could pay to stay there and assume the duties lighthouse keepers used to perform in the days before lighthouses were automated. My first thought was that maybe there was a lighthouse closer to home, which offered the same opportunity. I was intrigued.
I stopped what I was doing and listened to the rest of the commercial. Turns out it was an advertisement for a local cleaning service which performs light housekeeping. I laughed out loud. Was it the way the announcer emphasized the words or was it my subconscious hearing what it wanted to hear?


  1. You're right, Patricia. Words are amazing, both a gift and a dangerous tool. They're the vital ingredient of what we writers do when we sort out the universe.

  2. I like the idea of a sarcasm font, but then we would also need an irritation font to respond to unwanted e-mail traffic and ads. Something that screams "I don't want to buy a fruit basket or send money to Nigeria." It would have to be bold, and probably have at least two underlines.

    William Doonan

  3. Patricia, Your lighthouse keeping story is priceless, and it's certainly a great example. And you're so right. Emails are great, but sometimes person-to-person conversations work out a lot better. And as far as books, there have been times when the people who critique for me have interpreted things I've written differently than I meant them. Great post!

  4. Well, as you all probably know by now, I'm not one to mince words. All I ask is that posts not be boring! Why be afraid to stick your neck out to make a point, especially if you can poke fun at yourself at the same time? I know I rub people the wrong way, but at least I'm rubbing!

    What I'm looking for is a tongue-in-cheek font.

  5. Thanks, everyone! William and Sunny, I love your ideas for new fonts. Imagine if we had a font for every emotion. The list would be endless!

  6. Patricia, thanks for that many times have I heard something incorrectly, than had to stop and replay in my head...I suppose my font would be like one of those bots that roll and roll and roll until it ran into another word (lol). Love the post augie

  7. Lighthouse keeping. That's a good one. Similar to the one I saw about punctuation. Do you want to say, "Let's eat, Uncle Jack!" or "Let's eat Uncle Jack!" Anyway, good post.

    @Sunny - rubbing people the wrong way. Nah!
    Stephen Brayton

  8. Thanks, Stephen and Augie! You both made me laugh!

  9. As always, a delight to read. Words can end friendships, dissolve marriages, start wars. They can also begin a relationship, brighten someone's day, and solve a serious problem. Choose them carefully. Consider your audience before you speak. And let words bring sunshine into someone's life - every day.
    Thanks for the blog.
    James Callan

  10. I'm ready to keep a lighthouse, too, Patricia. I liked this post. I read and re-read emails I send. It might be the more OCD parts of my brain but it also a conscious attempt to say exactly what I mean, so my words won't be misinterpreted.

    Since email is my most frequent mode of communicating, I want to be sure that my emails are seen as positive and clear, concise. Someone recently described me as "succinct" and I was flattered.

    Great post, Patricia.

    Marta Chausée, author
    Resort to Mystery

  11. Jim,
    What a great way to put it: "bring sunshine into someone's life - every day."
    I try to do the same thing; I don't want any misunderstandings either. When I'm annoyed or not in a "good place," I try to wait to reply. It's a goal; I haven't perfected it yet!

  12. Patricia, I love the ideas you express here. (Great words!) I bet it serves as a reminder to many of why we are writers. Does it for me. (And yes, I have been mis-understood but my critique group usually bails me out!)

  13. Radine,
    Thank you for your kind words.

  14. I try to take care when I "express" with words. Sometimes I need to pause and take a breath when I read some things and write others. Occasionally the tone is surprising. I always relate to your words, Paticia.

  15. Patricia, I couldn't agree more. I have to remind my kids constantly that how you say something is just as important as the words you use. (In fact, reminding them of this is good for me, too, since I have to set the example.) And, just like you said, it's not only important in coversations that take place every day, but in writing, too. As writers, we know exactly what we're trying to say, but it's easy to forget that readers aren't inside our heads to make the same connections and conclusions that we make. That's why having other sets of eyes to read our material is so important!

  16. Amy,
    Good point! Having other sets of eyes read our material is so important!