I’m a suburban guy with rural roots and longings… not as in-touch with my urban-self as some of my colleagues and friends. Although I had heard “word” used in a salutatory fashion on television years ago, it has been more recent that someone actually directed it toward me.
A little probing helped me understand that word, used that way, is shorthand for “word up” which is slang for ‘acknowledgement, approval, enthusiasm….’ It turned out to be a good thing!
That exchange inspired me to spend some time on word.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, word (meaning “speech, talk, utterance,”) comes from the Proto-Germanic wurdan. The meaning “promise” (as in, “I give you my word”) was from Old English, and rooted in the theological sense of the word, word. Used in the plural, the meaning “verbal altercation” (as in “to have words with someone”) dates from mid-15c. Then there are all the computer versions of word: Word processor (1970); word processing (1984 – the year, not the book); word wrap (1977).
It turns out that using word in new ways is not at all new. Word has a rich and diverse history… it is a dynamic word indeed.
According to Dictionary.com, a word is “a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.” [italics, mine]
This phrase, “a principle carrier of meaning” has given rise to various uses of word. For example, we say,
- “We had words and it is over.”
- “Sir, I’d like a word with you.”
- “Let this be a word of warning.”
- “I give you my word on it.”
- “We received word of the event.”
- “Her word is law around here.”
- And, inversely, “Talk (words) is cheap, I want action!”
In each instance, word carries meaning!
I am a Christ-follower, and the word Word has a unique heritage in my faith as well. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the Greek word Logos (Word) denotes “(1) the expression of thought – not the mere name of an object – (a) as embodying a conception or idea; (b) a saying or statement, (i) by God; (ii) by Christ….”
The source goes on to say that the phrase ‘the word of the LORD’ is connected to “the revealed will of God [and] is used of a direct revelation given by Christ.” “…it is the message from the LORD, delivered with His authority and made effective by His power…” “…sometimes it is used as the sum of God’s utterances….” Finally, it is “a title of the Son of God” declaring “His distinct and superfinite Personality… His relation in the Godhead… His deity (the most intimate communion)… His creative power… His Incarnation…”
I added all of the bold text to illustrate something I’m learning: there’s a lot of “God-potential” in words. Combine that with the importance of meaning sited above and I have a developing conviction that my overuse of words is pilfering the potential power of words in my life.
We live in a fast-food world. And, because someone else preparing the food in advance, organizing it, and serving it up isn’t quiet fast enough, we added drive-thru windows.
I find that I approach words like this fast-food drive-thru world. I ceaselessly use a sort of shorthand (“I’ll take a #2”) in meetings. Words are way too often all about me (“but hold the mayo”). And my words are far-too-often about consumption (this ravenous, fast-paced appetite I have to get my opinions heard, defend my reputation, and so forth) rather than about digestion (really listening). This is likely rooted in the belief that information = transformation though all evidence is to the contrary.
There is an emerging slow food movement in places like Spain, France, and Italy. It is an old school response to fast-food; a response that values more than eating – capturing the communal experience.
Applied to words this approach speaks to the idea of reading deeply rather than skimming or surveying a lot of words. It has to do with (as James wrote) being “quick to listen and slow to speak.” It is a radical idea to be sure.
I am currently reading Henri Nouwen’s classic little book, The Way of the Heart, a book about connecting with God.
- Nouwen quoted ancient Church leaders who were concerned about the way words (listening and speaking) tend to connect us to this world.
- He challenged me to “recognize how often we come out of a conversation, a discussion, a social gathering, or a business meeting with a bad taste in our mouth.”
- He mused, “We speak about our ideas and feelings as if everyone were interested in them….” [NOTE: this was written years before tweets, texts, or posts!]
- He lamented this fixation (thank you baby boomers) we all have on ‘sharing’… this idea that we just HAVE to share something – anything.
- He warned that we fall prey to “the deceptive opinion that our words are more important than our silence.”
So here I sit: convicted that words should carry meaning; that they should communicate something Godly – communicate something rooted in God’s authority and power. Yet, I am keenly aware of my world’s propensity to wordiness… aware of my own tendency toward the same.
I need margin around my words – space – silence peppered with words rather than the other way around.
To help with that practice, I’m taking a couple weeks off from blogging.
I invite you to join me in this word-version of ‘slow food’ by measuring off some space for silence.
Let’s see if we hear from God more clearly so that when we do speak our words carry meaning; and if they are more striking and powerful.