It’s just words. Just words on a screen, on a page, in our heads. Just words. That’s what people say isn’t it? Stupid annoying playground chanting of ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!’
What a load of nonsense. Complete and utter tosh. If I say to you ‘Wow! You look lovely today!’ you’ll smile, and pshaw, and make a dismissive hand gesture. But it’ll make you feel happy. Equally, if a teenage boy says to a teenage girl one Tuesday morning in geography ‘You look FATTER and UGLIER than normal today, Lucy’ then those words will stay with their recipient for ooh, a good twenty years at least.
They’re just words, only words, just consonants and vowels strung together, twisting and sliding around one another to make sounds, to communicate to one another. Just words. If you really believe that, then tell me this, honestly. Have you ever been moved to tears by a book? A film? A song? By things that people have said to you? By things you’ve read online? By a conversation? And what was it that made you cry? Was it the light around you? Was it because you got cramp in your left foot? Or was it the words?
Just words. People don’t always realise their power. A chance remark, an overheard conversation, a tweet not directed at you. But you see it, and your mood changes. It stops being just words. It hits you with full force, squarely in the stomach, and leaves you reeling. Sometimes the effect is deliberate. Death scenes, poetry, mawkish love songs, abuse. But very often the writer, speaker, singer may not have intended it to make you feel that way at all. They may just have been making an observation about something. They may not have been directing their words at you. They may have chosen the wrong word. But still. It stops being just words.
Just words. It never is. It’s never just words. If that were true, then why do we encourage our children to speak? If it’s just words, why do we still communicate in the vast number of ways we do? If it’s just words, why do words stay with us? Why does our vocabulary shape how we see the world, and the world sees us? The words I see you using tell me more about you than merely the idea you are conveying. It tells me who you are. Or perhaps, who you’d like to be. Who you would like me to think of you as being.
Just words. If that were true, why do we read for pleasure? Why do we have conversations about anything that isn’t purely functional? Why do we sing, why do we make jokes, why do we shout? Why do we write? We take the words and we use them, perhaps too much, perhaps too little.
We build walls around ourselves with words. We interpret the world around us, navigating our way along with the limited tools of 26 letters and a handful of punctuation. It’s not just words. It’s never just words. It’s more than words.