Writing Basics

One Word Can Have Power, and Many Good Ones Strung Together Can Have Great Impact

Dear Writer – Wednesday, May 5, 2021

I grew up learning the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The “old adage” is referenced as far back as March of 1862 in The Christian Recorder and was a playground retort to bullies meaning that whatever name you want to call me it won’t hurt. It indicated confidence in one’s self.

But, as we know today, words have a great impact on people.

I used to do an exercise with my public speaking students. I drew a stick figure of a girl on the chalkboard – later the smart board.

I gave her a basic height and weight: 5’7″ and 105 pounds. I asked the class for words that could use to describe her weight. As they called out various ideas, I wrote them on the board beside the stick figure: skinny, thin, scrawny, anorexic, malnourished, emaciated, svelte, underweight, and twiggy. Then, in small groups, they ranked the words from the least offensive to the most offensive, and when it was time to share their decisions, the group had to explain why they ranked the words as they did.

“Thin” was ok and they had to look up “svelte” to rank it as unoffensive, but they found “anorexic” to suggest that the person had self-concept problems, “malnourished” to suggest the person might be impoverished, and “emaciated” to suggest the person suffered from some physical illness or disease.

We did the same with words that meant the stick girl was pretty, ugly, and obese.

Words sit in the dictionary waiting to be used. They can be used to tear a person apart or lift a person up. They can be used to mislead as well as inform with clarity.

Using words to tear apart, break down, and coerce people

Words can lead the reader down a path of propaganda; they can brainwash individuals who are not sure about what they believe. Strung together correctly for this purpose, they make the reader or listener question the personal beliefs maintained. They make us think, as readers and listeners, that right is wrong and wrong is right.

Here’s an example:

I listen to news radio when I am running into town on errands. At least once a week, I hear this advertisement that tries to get entrepreneurs to purchase a program that will teach the sales people how to sell their product and how to handle objections. Seriously?

As a consumer, salespeople who probe for add-on sales or who continually try to tell me why I need the product they are selling or why I need to upgrade my service exhaust me. I see it in webinars where the presenter says that they aren’t out to sell you anything, but at the end of the webinar, there they are with a product they want you to buy.

Seriously, as a consumer, you need to be aware of the techniques used by salespeople, persuaders, and politicians so that you don’t get buffaloed into purchasing something you don’t need or believing something untrue.

As readers and listeners, we need to be aware of those who write and speak with propaganda and brainwashing in mind. We need to see through the holes in their logic and in their statements. We need to be able to read between the lines. We need to be educated enough to recognize valid and invalid statements.

Using words to build people up, create positivity, and paint a picture with words

As writers of both fiction and nonfiction, our ability to place one word after another as if the words were beads on a string is an artistic talent, and as we place string after string into the jewelry box, we build people’s confidence and understanding and weave complex poems and stories.

As a writer, we need to be constantly searching for the best words, the most precise words to create our work. If we do it correctly, our readers can visualize exactly what we are saying.

Use your words for good; don’t buy into the words of those that are stringing them along for evil.

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