Words don’t come easy

Words are maybe the most common thing we exchange every day, and yet so often we find that words don’t come easy actually. Why not? After all, words are easily decoded by dictionary definitions, so what could be the problem?

Most people think that words simply stand for objects or facts in the real world. That there is a one-to-one match between a reality and a word. So putting thoughts into words should actually be quite easy, just a “translation” exercise, idea-for-word, one at a time. But even when adopting this limited view, it pretty quickly becomes obvious that there are fewer words in the language than things in the infinite reality. We have for instance only one word for “house”, although the objects called this way can be very different. On the other hand, there are words that mean the same, like silly and stupid. What’s the point of this redundancy?

So it seems that word meaning is not just a one-to-one match, the kind of an idea-word match. Silly and stupid may only apparently mean the same, just try to substitute one for another in a real context and you will see how different they are. Try to tell someone they look gorgeous when you mean nice, or viceversa. The meanings we attach to words are not just out there, explained in a dictionary, at a semantic level, but are socially negotiated and coloured by our own attitudes, relationships, beliefs, or values. Words as diverse as boss, friendship, betray, love, happiness, beautiful are given different meanings by different people, despite a common dictionary definition.

So watch my video briefly outlining the main types of meanings that can be found in words. Next time round you will hopefully not ignore the load of hints and hues present just in one word. Why not? So as to articulate your thoughts with their finer shades of meaning, while all the time on the look-out not to launch offensive hints in the room.