What’s In a Word? That Which We Call a Word By Any Other–Wait…What?

Sunsets & fog (3)



Throughout my life, words have never been my forte. I could not seem to easily express what I was trying to communicate through verbal language, but I have not, until now, deeply contemplated what words are for. Why is the language that I speak so important to thoroughly understand? What depth am I missing? When I pick up a book at the store or library, am I looking for which one has more pictures? Often instead of reading a good novel, I choose to take adventures through flashing images on my television. Kress fears that “language-as-written will increasingly be displaced  by image.” After reading his preface, I now share the same concern and believe there is action to be taken here.

In high school, I had a great opportunity to be immersed in, not only a new educational experience, but a new culture as well. My high school was near St. Louis, Missouri with a population of mostly black Americans. I had come from a small country town with very little variation in culture–to my naive knowledge, of course. In this new suburban town, I quickly experienced a new language throughout each day. Some words were simply slang but others seemed to be a completely different word from what I thought it should be according to the context. For example, the use of the word “grill” is generally using as a verb, but when I first heard this word at my new school, it was in reference to someone’s teeth. This example is not meant to point out how different cultures are, but how words are richly used to express culture.

Another great example of why it is so important to understand all of what a word has to offer us is the word “shalom” from the Hebrew language. The average person that hears “shalom” would probably think that it means peace. Although this is true, the meaning is so much deeper. Saying “shalom” to someone is wishing them peace within themselves, with those they interact with, and with God. It is a blessing of unity for the body, mind, and soul. I think understanding the true meaning can inspire the proper emotion spoken or written. So often, I am guilty of not caring which word I choose for a sentence as long as it make sense, but now, I feel challenged to know my words as if they were a part of me. Kress said so inspiringly that “words wait to be filled” (4).   There is so much depth to be communicated through our mouths and particularly our fingers in writing. He did a fantastic job of taking an element which we all take for granted, and turned it into a longing for restoration of a beautiful language.

I think that a large portion of what Kress wanted us to absorb is that words are so much more than what we hear or read. Their value extends far beyond a group of letters arranged together to make a comprehensible stimuli to our brains. They are the foundation for verbal communication, expressing emotion, and living adventures across vast oceans for only twenty dollars. We should not allow any replacement for truly great literature; therefore, our language must also be preserved though our everyday speech. “The sun rose, the mists dissolved.” If I showed you a picture of what I imagined as I read this quote, then your vision would be tainted by what I see. Literature encourages passion and motivation uniquely which cannot be compromised–this is the real purpose of a word.



6 thoughts on “What’s In a Word? That Which We Call a Word By Any Other–Wait…What?

  1. I can totally relate with you on this! Although words are not my strongpoint, I do see how important they are and why Kress is so concerned about the possible shift from writing to image. Until reading Kress, I had never given much consideration to the possible damage such a shift could cause for the world of literature. One of my favorite parts about reading is filling the empty words with meaning and imagining in my mind what the words are saying. Even though this kind of imagination cannot be done with an image since it is already full, some people would still prefer reading an image because it requires less thought. The preference for image above writing could cause our culture to lose their ability to think and imagine since the image does it for them.

    I loved your examples about the importance of understanding a word’s complete meaning as well as its meaning in cultural context. In general, it seems that words do not hold as much significance for Americans as they did in the past. I cannot help but wonder if part of this is due to the quick and easy mindset; it is much easier to read an image than it is to read and understand a paragraph of words.

  2. One of the things that you mentioned was something that I found very relating: “Often instead of reading a good novel, I choose to take adventures through flashing images on my television.” Before high school, I was a bookworm, carrying books around with me everywhere, and going to the library to check out ten plus books a week; I was obsessed with the text. However, when I reached high school, due to my rigorous schedules, I had to put the books down, and found myself often turning to images, like television and movies, out of convenience because they did not require me to have to put meaning to a word. Recently though, I have begun to pick up reading again and for the past year, I have not been able to put my books down again. Reading has allowed me to develop my own vision of the world, while images have already created a vision, and limit me to the scope of their boundaries. I did not realize how much I was truly missing out on until I started reading again. Images dictate the way that our vision of the world will be, while words allow us to take them and place our own meaning into them to make them relate to us. Although I enjoy watching movies and my TV shows, being able to create my own interpretation and perspective is something which I have come to value.

    Throughout my education, I have learned the importance of using my words. I love that Kress says that words are empty until we put meaning to them because it is something that most people do not take notice of. When we are learning new languages, in order for us to gain understanding of the new language, we must associate a word from our primary language with the new word in order to give it meaning to us; otherwise the new word will just be lines and curves that mean nothing to us.

    I feel that as we are moving from words to image, we are beginning to lose our creativity and imagination. Being able to place meaning with a word is what allows us to construct our own views of the world, and by replacing words with images, we no longer are given as much room to generate our own ideas, but more so just to observe and interpret others’ ideas. I agree completely with you when you say that Kress’ true reason for writing this piece is for us to really learn to connect more with our words and place meaning into them. I believe that if we take this away and completely shift over to the image and screen, then we would all become mindless and as “mere thinkers” as opposed to “thinking men” as Emerson has stated in “The American Scholar”.

    Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The American scholar. Hoboken, N.J.: BiblioBytes, 199. Print.

  3. Joyce sikazwe
    I have to say I really enjoyed reading your blog! Everything was well put together & I absolutely agree with your opinion on the Kress article. I enjoyed reading all the examples you put out in your blog. When you stated “…but how words are richly use to express culture.” That statement can definitely relate to my own life. I moved to the United States when I was 15 and to be quite honest it took me a while to learn the different use of words and the spelling of different words. For instance where I came from we spell “color” as “colour “. Those two words can mean absolutely different meanings depending on what culture you associate them with. Which is a good thing because it shows us that one word that may sound alike can have two different meanings or one word may mean something different if you choose to use it in a different way. Kress really made me realize that words are just not words and you may think they mean one thing but yet they mean something totally different.
    When Kress talks about strict ordering, I found his example very amusing “Bill and Mary married” is different from “Mary and Bill married. I honestly had to idea that those two statements could have different meanings just in switching their names. Kress really did make his point clear and all his examples were really influential. Even if I struggled with reading this paper I really got a few points out of it. I will definitely try and use my words wisely for now I know how much of a great impact words can put on us as Human beings.

  4. I really agree with you! As a chemical engineer words are clearly not my forte…in fact I chose a major that would let me take the least number of them. But I like how you emphasize the importance and depth that words can have that a screen cannot touch. Your specific example with the word “shalom” made me realize that every word has a deeper meaning than I ever thought, like you. I absolutely love how you wrote you would choose to take flashing adventures on television rather than boringly stating that you were watching television. Your post is very amazing and well set up! Very good job.

  5. Although I see literature and graphical novels both as being very significant for the preservation of our academic and artistic culture, I do agree with the points that you have raised in your blog. It is becoming increasingly tangible that “language-as-written will increasingly be displaced by image”. This is of great concern and this is mostly driven by the advent of technology. The importance of reading content has been shirked off and supplanted by the efficient and less time-consuming alternative of merely watching or viewing a graphic. Generally, people must believe that the latter would provide with the same substance and would ultimately take much less time to do. When one sees how many Twilight fans there are out there, or how many people went out and watched the new 2012 remake of Les Miserables, it makes one wonder how many of those people actually read all of the novels in the Twilight series or the 2783- page unabridged novel, Les Miserables. By solely relying on watching, rather than appreciating the venue through which reading and interpreting words can provide, there is a large potential loss of imagination, creativity, and deeper meaning of the content. Many critics argue that after they watch a certain movie, they often do not get the same sense of satisfaction as they did from reading the novels because a lot of the substance and material of the work was lost in translation. While your blog post certainly does address these issues, one does have to make the concession that there lies a lot of importance within “graphic narratives” as well.

  6. Your point about how words are richly used to express culture. Your blog post really got me thinking about the way I approach books and reading in general. Unlike you, in the past, I used to be an avid reader often forgoing television for books and spending many long hours reading. As the years have gone by, I stopped reading books completely unless it was for school and gradually switched my attention toward television and the internet. I feel like the reason I may have done this is the easy accessibility of television and the internet. When I wanted to read a book, I often had to either go out to a bookstore and buy the book or go to my school library and check it out, only to have to return it before it is due. With television and the internet, it is as simple as turning on the TV or your computer and it is all there for easy viewing immediately. These mediums, although full of knowledge themselves, take away from some of the knowledge that you can only gain by reading books. As you have mentioned, there is so much depth to be found in words and that is part of the appeal for written language; you can create a world from your imagination and develop it any way you like. You typically spend more time reading a book and fully comprehending it than you would watching an episode of your favorite TV show which is usually on 30 minutes. Because of this disproportionate length in time spent reading, you have a closer and more intimate connection to the book as you read and this is something that a lot of us are losing as technology is becoming a replacement for books and writing.

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