For one word a man is often deemed to be wise, and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish. We should indeed be careful what we say. — Confucius.
Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world. — Joseph Conrad, A personal record.
A very great part of the mischiefs that vex this world arises from words. — Edmund Burke.
A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword. — Robert Burton, The anatomy of melancholy I.2.4.4
Men suppose their reason has command over their words; still it happens that words in return exercise authority on reason. — Francis Bacon.
By words the mind is winged. — Aristophanes
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.–Proverbs 16:24
I love the art form and craft of acting. There is so much you can learn about real life from the world of theatre and today’s topic is no exception: The power of words. First, how powerful can a single word be? Bernard Pivot, a master acting teacher, honed down the process of creating a character to seven questions. Answer his seven questions and you can get a picture of the heart and soul of any character your portraying–or even yourself. You might think that answering those questions would require writing essays or lengthy paragraphs at least. However, two of those questions are answerable by using only one word; What word or sound do you love? What word or sound do you hate? Your one word answer to those questions can tell a lot about you, that’s how telling and powerful words, honest words, can be.
Secondly, there is also power in how you say a word. There is an acting exercise I use when teaching students how to deliver lines called, “Color Your Words.” The idea is to look for words in the script that you can place emphasis on by using your voice to illustrate the physical properties of the word or the emotional context of the word. For instance, if in your lines you have something like, “And it took so long to get to the front of the line!” The word, “long” can be delivered by greatly extending and slowing your pronunciation of the word thereby giving a physical sensation of extended time to the audience, helping them feel the frustration we all have felt being stuck in a slow moving line. Conversely, a quick and guttural delivery of the word, “hate” can take the emotion from a benign distaste to one of utter detest.
Finally, the importance of choosing the right word. Seen any movies lately? When you take the average budget for a Hollywood film and divide it by the average number of words in a Hollywood screenplay you get the average cost of each word in the script to being about $7000.00. That means it costs $7000 for any person in the film to say one word. With that kind of cost to enunciate each and every word in a screenplay is carefully chosen and scripted, nothing is wasted or left to chance. Oh sure, they do allow actors to ad-lib some scenes, but only after they have shot the scripted scene and it’s safely in the can.
In the world of theatre there is a lot of focus and importance in choosing words and how to say them. If so much time and energy is spent on that in something that isn’t real life, how much more careful should we be in doing the same thing in our actual day to day lives, where our words can literally have profound impact on ourselves and those around us? For instance, when was the last time you consciously chose to say something you know they love to hear to someone you love? When did you last make an effort to choose just the right word or words and paid attention to how you said them?
As our good friend Joseph Conrad noted above, the right words can change the world, and they can also change a life. Probably even more important they can change someone’s day or even radically change a relationship. The possibilities are endless, your choice of vocabulary extensive. Try it. Everyday, take one opportunity to carefully and prayerfully choose the right word or words for someone and listen to yourself as you deliver them as you would gifts for a celebration. You just might change a life, and that life might just be yours.