Monday, March 09, 2009

What Does it Mean?

As a writer and reader, I spend a lot of time with words. Lately I've been thinking about those words and how we use them--to get across a meaning, describe an object, express a feeling. We use words in so many ways, but are we really saying what we think we're saying?

Words are tools, but they're not like hammers. They're much more flexible than that. A hammer is a hammer, no matter who is holding it. But words, they often take new shape depending on who hears (or reads) them. Words are constructs we've created to help us express ourselves more concretely. They're limited, however, by the understanding that the hearer or reader brings to them.

Take the word "pencil" for instance. When I write pencil, I have a specific idea of what that word represents (yellow, wooden stick with graphite in the center). You may have another (mechanical plastic stick with refillable lead compartment). "Couch" is another good example. When I hear the word couch, I attach the characteristics "soft", "plush", and "over-sized" to it. Someone else might picture a stiff, firm Victorian-style seat.

Realizing that such seemingly simple words can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, I'm beginning to wonder how we've managed to communicate anything over the centuries and eons that our language has developed. Each of us carries our own experiences, fears, knowledge and understanding to every word we hear, read or speak. How can we ever agree on abstract concepts like "God" or "peace" or "time," when "couch" and "pencil" aren't as concrete as we may think?

6 comments:

Reluctant Housewife said...

Profound post, Ami. I agree with you. I think it's hard to communicate clearly. Words are fluid.

My words are definitely not a hammer... I think my words are probably made of silly putty.

Ami said...

Thanks, Reluctant. The topic of words and their meaning keeps coming up around me and I needed to get my thoughts out on it before they slipped away.

nejyerf said...

i quite like this post.

Ami said...

Why thanks, Jen! I've missed you!

SaraLynn said...

Fantastic....
I really enjoyed your post :)

Ami said...

SaraLynn - Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed this post.

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