The mind does peculiar things during meditation. Yesterday my monkey mind veered off onto the subject of words. Specifically, a visual image of a childhood toy popped into play. It was a round, red plastic thing about the size of a 33 rpm LP record.
Inside the perimeter was a circular slot and in the center were two straight slots that connected to the circular slot. positioned in the slots were moveable pieces with letters or numbers on them. All the letters of the alphabet and the numbers from 1 to 9 had a moveable piece. The object was to move the pieces into the center slots to form words and numbers. In my head, yesterday, I began mentally playing with the toy.
Words are basic to our state of being human. In order to communicate the idea of my toy, I must use words to attempt to describe the toy to you. In order for you to understand the jist of my description, you have to use words, specifically words written in English.
Although we can have thoughts and emotions that don’t involve words, we must have words in order to communicate them to others. Most of the time, we think to ourselves and talk to ourselves in words. When you see the word “dandelion”, you have the image or understand the concept of that ubiquitous plant we’ve all seen.
Words are basic to our personal communication. We request items by using words. We express our love or hate through words. We reveal our ideas and concepts by the use of words.
When you see the noun “word”, you know what it is. Words form the very basis of our civilization. The U.S. Constitution is a series of highly organized words written on parchment that form the outline of the nation’s form of government. The laws that enable or restrict our behavior consist of words. We don’t often think about these very obvious facts.
We play intellectual mind games with words. For instance, there is onomatopoeia, which means the imitation of a sound. In English we have such words as meow, grunt, crunch, or crisp.
Some English words used in different countries are assigned different meanings. For instance the word “biscuit” in the United States can mean a small savory type of bread, or cracker, or nugget of breakfast cereal. In the United Kingdom, the word “biscuit” is used to indicate what Americans call a cookie.
It took me awhile to understand my English friends reference to wearing a “jumper” on cool days. I finally figured out they are refering to the article of clothing Americans call a “sweater”. In the U.S. a jumper is someone who competes in a specific athletic field event, or someone who commits suicide by leaping from a tall building or a bridge.
Some words are pronounced differently in the US and the UK. One time I pointed out a particularly handsome Jaguar sports car. My friend laughed, and said I had mispronounced the name. He said it’s not a “jag-war” it’s called a “jag-you-are”. I replied that in America, someone who pronounces it “jag-you-are” might come off as being a poser, or snobbish.
We use words to help us learn words in other languages. For instance, I’m trying to learn Russian. In that effort, I substitute a Russian word for a common English expression. For example when I shut off the alarmclock in the morning I say, outloud, “Спасибо” (spaseebuh) instead of “thank you”. I do this at the conclusion of many actions that machines help me accomplish, such as driving the car a long distance. I’m in the habit of thanking the Toyota by saying “Спасибо”. At those moments, I’m thinking in Russian. I use other common words in a similar manner in order to keep my lessons fresh.
Words are so important that they have books dedicated to their definitions, dictionaries. Have you ever spent time reading your dictionary? Try it sometime. It’s actually fun to do.
Some people professionally study words in the field of etymology. Of course that study encompasses English and other languages. Etymology is a specialized form of history. I can understand why some people desire to become etymologists.
Of course there is the scientific study of language, linguistics. Linguists get down to the nitty gritty of word sounds and word meanings. There are specialties within the field like phonetics, semantics, and grammar.
It’s easy to get lost in the sea of words that form human thought and communication. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed or fearful about the massive onslaught of words. There’s a simple sentence to keep in mind to allay your apprehension. I say, “Don’t panic.” Be thankful some people invented words.