Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Words Have Meaning

“Words have meaning,” he said.

Well, of course they do, I thought. Nice, good looking and wonderfully tall, but my new husband apparently wasn’t very bright. Like, duh, could he think of something a little more profound to say as we gazed into one another’s eyes over a shared plate of bruschetta, glasses of Amarone at the ready. (Okay, it was more likely glaring at one another over cold pizza as we debated something one of the kids said or did, but that’s a different story.)

So, what he meant to say was, be careful of the words you choose. Words can cause extreme emotions – ecstasy to pain. Words can invoke memories of past experiences and imagined futures.

Word choice is important.

Recently, I had a conversation with my father. He has cancer. (A horrendous word.) He’s doing all the treatments, taking care of himself (well, my mom is, but that’s a different story) and by all accounts doing well given his diagnosis. We’re all trying to be positive, not thinking too far ahead and taking one day at a time. So, during this conversation where he was updating me on a recent meeting with the doctor he said, “The doctor said I have one to two years.”

I was driving, tears filled my eyes and I told him I’d talk to him later. I pulled into a parking lot, cried for an hour and then did some shopping therapy. As I pulled my credit card out to buy another thing I didn’t need, I thought about my conversation with him. What does one to two years mean? I know what the words mean of course, individually and grouped together in the sentence as they were, but what does it really mean? Shouldn’t I ask for more details? Clarification?

How many times have you said or heard someone say “What I meant was … “

Words have meaning.

Choosing the right/perfect/appropriate one isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort. (See I cheated there, gave myself options, but I can do that because this is my blog and there’s no word count!)

Back to my story. I called Dad back, asked him to clarify and he told me the doctor liked to give the absolute worst case scenario. Nice! Later, I spoke with my mom who told me the doctor said in one to two years they’d look at reassessing his treatment options. Good that I asked for clarification, huh?

Words have meaning and if you don’t understand something just ask.

What makes the word game even more fun is the variety of meaning words take on across continents and cultures. We lived in Germany and Holland when I was young. What a fabulous culturally enriching experience -- I went to school with children from around the world. (You guessed it, another story.)I recall the first time a classmate asked me if I had a rubber. I was shocked! What kind of place was this? Another classmate handed her an eraser. Aha a rubber is an eraser if you’re from the U.K. My first of many lessons about words.

Words have meaning and they often have different meanings to different people.

My husband was right, words have meaning. Yes they do and I love them for that.

Bye for now kiddies.



  1. Loved it! But, of course I may be a bit biased due to a conflict of interests.
    Seriously, thought it was great. Keep it up.

  2. Great post, Cat!! You're absolutely right about words. A part of me hates words because (for me) a whole conversation can happen through eyes and gesture. Words foul up the process. Friendship through the Internet makes me sometimes like I'm working bling; I can't see expression when I read a person's words, which makes interpretation difficult. :)

    I guess it's crazy I'm a writer. My whole world revolves around words that must stand on their own and make an impact...

    (I'll be thinking of you and your father.)

    Good work, Cat. x

    ~ Corra

  3. *Friendship through the Internet makes me sometimes like I'm working bling*

    What?? Har!

    (My keyboard is sticky and I keep forgetting to check my work before I post a comment.) :D

    That should say:

    *Friendship through the Internet makes me sometimes feel like I'm working blind.*

    There's the power of a misplaced letter! :D

  4. I prefer to recall that my profound words were spoken over a glass of Amarone and that "words have meaning" was literally just that. The "he meant to say" was communicated by that intense but loving gaze over the top of my wine glass as I took a sip waiting for your response.
    Blah blah blah - any way who would have thought that those words inspired your first blog post.
    Go figure!
    I am so impressed by your writing and that some how your personality eminates from your writing. I am so proud of you - so pursue your dreams and passions and show the world what I knew from your very first email.

  5. An interesting and fun blog.

    Now when you got back to America, did you check your boyfriend's pockets for erasers?