I’m a word lover—word with a lower case “w,” that is. I have nothing against capitalized Word, of course, especially since much of my income (writing and editing) is derived from the Microsoft program of that name. Nevertheless, it would be quite a stretch to say I love it. For how can one have affection for a soulless, purely technical thing?

And if you maintain that ordinary words contain no spark of the Divine, I can best reply by quoting Emily Dickinson: “A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it begins to live that day.” Wish I could express that idea of a life force behind words so elegantly and eloquently!

Proverbs tells us, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”1 Let’s focus on the first noun since the second is but its corollary.

Think about a small, authentic compliment you’ve received. Are you smiling? Now think about a slightly deprecating remark addressed to you. You’re wincing, aren’t you? Note that both “feel good” and nasty words remain more or less indelibly inscribed in our consciousness, no matter how long ago the former came our way or how much we might like to bury the latter. I might add that our nightly declaration in the Shema, forgiving anyone who hurt us, intentionally or not, with words or otherwise, doesn’t necessarily make us forget the painful experience.

I believe this proves the poetess’s point: Words have a life of their own; moreover, they embody permanence.

As children, we could attempt to hide our pain by loudly insisting: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” I doubt anyone was fooled by this blather. We know better as adults. The Chafetz Chaim, of righteous memory, devoted some of his sacred writing to warning us about the potentially disastrous effects of lashon hara (forbidden speech) for the speaker, listener and subject, both for our temporal lives in this world and for our eternal lives in the next one.

An adage about words that doesn’t always work for me is that a picture is worth a thousand of them. With apologies to devotees of the use of emoticons and emojis, I maintain that such images generally convey the feelings of a fleeting moment. Powerful words, on the other hand, require thought, which takes time to be expressed. I find that using simple pictures instead of articulate words to communicate is comparable to eating instant pudding when one really wants mousse or trifle for dessert!

Humankind is described as being medaber—capable of producing and understanding intelligible speech, and therefore able to receive our Creator’s teachings, which distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We may enjoy doodling, but that doesn’t adequately differentiate us from other creatures, and some intelligent primates (notably monkeys and elephants) have been known to draw or paint.

No one likes doomsday prophecies, so I’ll attempt to avoid bemoaning the current generation’s preference for a quick and easy way to do everything, which includes communication. Let’s consider, after all, who in our fast-paced age (aside from the aged) has time for good grammar, proper punctuation and other such inconvenient heavyweights. Better to go with the flow, no? Travel light and you’ll be all right—or alright, as the current trend would have it.

If I sound a bit like a relic from the 20th century, I assure you that I’m also very much a part of the 21st. But I do think that certain vestiges of the previous era are worth keeping, and words (with a lowercase “w”) are high on my list. So I’ll keep hoping to be granted a way with words rather than seek to do away with them.