The Meaning of Words

Sep 212004
Authors: Kelly Hagenah

As a child, I remember chanting the words, “Sticks and stones

will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

As I grew up, I learned that actions often do speak louder than

words, and I would abide by that in my own trials and as my

relationships developed. However, as time has passed and through

experience and education, I have come to learn just how much power

words can possess. I have also come to respect and appreciate the

influence speech has in our daily lives.

While the politics of speech, in regards to our right to use it,

are complicated, what confuses me the most is the fact that we

often take advantage of its force. We don’t always realize or

appreciate the small and life-changing effects words can have,

whether we mean them to or not.

A simple compliment has the ability to turn a day around, lives

are changed by the smallest acknowledgement, and an apology has the

strength to erase almost any mistake. Relationships start not

solely by handshakes or shy smiles, but by a first hello, followed

closely by an often effortless unforgettable conversation. True

love may be felt at first sight, or shared within kisses and long

gazes, but it is within hearing the words, “I love you” that our

heart begins to fly.

At the same time, words can tear a relationship to shreds, they

can cause fights to break out and they can stop actions that should

be taken. It is words that move us, physically and emotionally,

throughout our lives.

Words give meaning to our daily lives and can make memories and

pictures flow uncontrollably through our minds. They can cause

emotions to run amok whether we want them to or not, and they can

define the expressions we cannot show. While actions are an

incredible asset to speech, they would be meaningless if we could

not explain them. While pictures can say a thousand words, we could

not share their significance if it weren’t for speech. And while a

newborn baby’s first movements hold a parent in awe, it is their

first words that are written down, and it is always our last words

that are never forgotten.

Words can make us cry, smile, laugh and remember. They can start

wars and end disputes, and they make it possible for connections to

develop and for goodbyes to last infinitely. Our speech allows us

to define who we are and what we want, and it gives us the

opportunity to make a difference by simply expressing


Remember that a stranger’s words have the ability to change your

life, and that you too have the choice to speak up. Never forget

that while actions are a form of expression, it is the words we use

that often provide the meaning. And always remember to express how

you feel, to tell a joke, to sing out loud, to say you’re sorry or

to give a compliment, because we are lucky enough to have the right

to something as powerful as speech in our daily lives.

Kelly Hagenah is a senior speech communications major. Her

column will run on Wednesdays.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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