Do words have the final say?

We think we use words, yet could it be it’s the other way round, words use us? We listen and what happens? We agree or disagree or stay indifferent to what words say. Even looking at the world we see it as words present it. ‘What a beautiful tree!’ bursts out. And so it is.

It feels that words are staging a talk show and we fall for their charm. And do we go along with what they say? And if we didn’t, would we be lost? You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to realise that words are full of their own opinions, filling all our waking moments. Otherwise what would there be?

Words ‘have’ feelings, too. They say ‘I love you’. And thoughts, they say ‘I think so’. They even say ‘I think, therefore I am’, or even ‘Cogito, ergo sum’. There isn’t much they can’t say, even things that don’t make sense, and then they have the last word. There wouldn’t be much without them.

Words can say ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘mine’. Without words there’s no identity. They are our friends, to be relied on. They take care of us. We don’t need to worry about getting our identity mixed up. ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘mine’ will never be ‘you’, ‘your’ or ‘yours’.

Words know exactly what they are doing, even creating a chain of events. If they say ‘I love you’ an echo might be heard saying ‘I love you too’ or ‘bugger off’. If they say ‘I hate you’ there might be a long silence – words unspoken are powerful words. But where hate is involved, words can force us to kill when they alter our mind states.

Indeed, words can play dangerous games with our minds. For example, our brains register only shapes and sounds. Then words play tricks with our sense of reality. They may say: ‘That’s a beautiful tree’ or ‘That’s a nice hen’. But they might equally say: ‘That’s firewood’ or ‘That bird looks good to eat’. Whatever meaning pleases them. And where does that leave us?

When written down, words can have a powerful hold on us. On paper, they take on an air of authority. Look at the policeman with his note pad writing down words as evidence. In a court of law these words have the power to give a particular slant to the verdict. Could it be that words on paper are a law unto themselves?

It feels as if we’re all actors on a word stage. Every word assumes a character that we enact. We wear the words like a theatrical costume and play the part. We don’t even have to learn the lines. The words come of their own accord and know when to make an entrance.

For me, you never really know where you are with words. For example, they don’t always mean what they say. Or they’re saying something to you without ‘saying’ it. Imagine you’re hearing the words but not what they’re saying, you feel it deep inside these words just don’t touch you.

The trickiest game words play is when you don’t hear them at all, when they use a sort of sign language encoded in human behaviour. Only in extreme cases will the words give voice to what they first say through a person’s behaviour, like: ‘Oh darling, I love you so’, or ‘If you lie again, I hit you’, or ‘I don’t care, do what you like’.

The best evidence that words are in control is when they seem to say things not intended by the speaker. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that! I don’t know what came over me. It just slipped out. Sorry if I hurt you. It wasn’t me talking. I was beside myself with worry.’ You could ask: ‘How can you say it wasn’t you, I saw your lips move? Are you implying we are mere mouthpieces for words?’ But most people are too polite and reply with a friendly ‘Oh, never mind, it happens to us all.’ Or is that just words playing at being polite?

Many books have been written about the power of words. We know that when words say something strongly enough over a time and then assume authority through the ‘printed word’, they have the power to make us believe we have the power. A delusion that prevents us from seeing that in the end the power is not really with us, which we might appreciate better when remembering that famous line: In the beginning was the Word…

What chance have we got in the face of such power?