For the Love of a Word

Popular culture has destroyed the meaning of the word “love.” Instead of embracing love as a constant gift from God that needs to be shared with the world, we wrongly reserve it for one of two extremes. We say that we have love for menial, materialistic objects and with people deeply close to us such as a spouse or parent, but rarely anything or anyone in between. We love football. We love tacos. We love three day weekends. We love country rap (I sure don’t, but for some reason people actually do). What we don’t always love are people outside of our families. We don’t love co-workers. We don’t love friends. We don’t love teammates. We don’t even love our boyfriends or girlfriends. Oh sure, we like them, we appreciate them, and we enjoy their existence, but we rarely tell them that we love them. I don’t deny that Christians show love in their actions and indirectly through their words, but when it comes to using the word “love” to describe our emotions, we often fall short. Just as Christians ought to use the word “love” when they mean love, so should writers consistently chose accurate words to represent their ideas.

Written language needs to be just as authentic as spoken language, but this can be difficult when a professor assigns a ten or twelve page assignment. It becomes easy to gloss over the meaning of a word and focus only on the amount of space it takes up on a page. Instead of saying: “The Cuban Missile Crisis was an important event in Cold War history,” one ends up saying: “For thirteen horrendous days in October of 1962, the United States dauntlessly stood in opposition to the callous presence of the Soviet Union in Cuba, in a significant Cold War episode that radically shifted the current of history.” When writers struggle to stretch the length of papers to the minimum word requirement, quantity quickly becomes more important than quality. In our attempts to make papers long, we unsuccessfully try to explain things we don’t understand, promote ideas we don’t believe in, and teach information that is not true. C.S. Lewis was a well-graced writer across a number of genres; he wrote works that both captured the imagination of children and engaged the minds of scholars. Lewis had this to say about word choice: “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” This philosophy of words did not just apply to the Chronicles of Narnia. Even in Lewis’s dense works, The Screwtape Letters for example, the writer was careful to use simple words when necessary and complex words when necessary.

On the flip side of that, it is also tempting to write in a way that is elementary and easy to create, although it may not necessarily be true. John Keating, the infamous English teacher from The Dead Poets Society, calls this pure laziness: “[A]void using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.” I’m skeptical about his philosophy on wooing women—usually dinner and cheesecake will suffice for me—but Keating’s observation about writing essays is spot on. “Very tired” is easy, “exhausted” is hard, and ultimately they do not mean the same thing. One is true to the concept, the other is not. The idea that more is better is not always correct in the case of diction and syntax. Keating realizes that in some situation, to remove a word, phrase, or paragraph from an essay is to be most faithful to a subject.

The beauty of words is that they can be powerful when they are short, influential when they are long, persuasive when they are few, and memorable when they are many. To share authentic ideas may require a three sentence paragraph, or it may demand a twenty word sentence. As a writer, you have the authority to make that call, and with that power comes the responsibility to make the best word choice for the situation. The duty of a writer to unify thoughts and language is almost as critical as the command Christians have to both speak and show love. When someone’s words betray their actions, we call them a hypocrite, and so should that title befall a writer who disregards the connection between thought and truth and written language. As it says in Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all for the glory of Christ.”

This photo seems appropriate… maybe not.

tacoboutit

 

Written by: Savanna

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