Words can never carry the right meaning. When written they are an approximation of our elaborate grunts – the sounds we make to hopefully be understood. This hope is necessary, as hope is what we have for other people. We can not completely know or control another’s reaction when we release our words onto them. Be it a declaration of love, a quip of a joke, or an instruction to a classroom we must hope that our words will be received with the right intention. Lawyers, politicians, and marketers must take care in their use of words, as they attempt to elicit a clear response to their use.
It is common for a cost to have resulted from the wrong choice of words. From the loss of money to the loss of a romance, it is likely that we have all had separation caused by the selection of words, and it is even evident that people go to war because of rival interpretations of words. With such destruction possible it is easy to question why anyone would use words at all.
We could use images, merging colours and shapes to display concepts. Some people will find this beneficial, and even advantageous, though time in preparation is one clear limit to this appeal. Tonal sound is another method of expression, and it can have a great ability to connect with emotion. For example, words alone would very rarely make people spontaneously dance. Indeed it is music that draws out this movement from emotion. While words are based on sounded grunts, the sound from constructed instruments can avoid the misinterpretation of words, and aim to connect straight to the expression of an emotion. Yet ambiguity is still an issue in sounding simple and complicated ideas, and it too is reliant on hope.
The range of expression possible in tones, images and even mathematics also seems to be less than we can express in words. So what if we did not attempt to use any of these languages?
Imagine the touch of sun light on your face. A soft breeze passes, and a strand of hair shifts on your cheek. There is freshly cut grass underfoot, and the sky is blue with puffs of white. You are warm, calm and still. If you don’t translate this simple pleasure into words, it is only possible to have the joy of the experience, and it is true to say that the experience is greater than any description. Cells shifting around the skin, perhaps jostling towards warmth, is a physical affect that is greater than an imagined response triggered by the ordering of words. Despite this failing that words will always have, and the threat of sorrow they present, we will continue to use them.
Humans will still aim to convince others of opinions, and endeavour to replicate events through words. With the risks of communication we will also continue to use words in an attempt to build knowledge and communities, and with the inadequacy of words we will continue to expose ourselves and our thoughts. We will use words to record messages for the future and send those messages across great distances. Importantly we will also rise amongst doubt and speak, perhaps against a crime or in favour of an idea, even when we fear that we do not quite know what to say.
It has been said that it is better to remain silent and be considered a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt, but even though the words can fail us, it can be more important to speak when you are afraid of the result than at any other point.