Can We Really Say What We Mean & Mean What We Say?

Suck was a queer word ... But the sound was ugly. Once he had washed his hands in the lavatory of the Wicklow Hotel and his father pulled the stopper up by the chain after and the dirty water went down through the hole in the basin. And when it had all gone down slowly the hole in the basin had made a sound like that: suck. Only louder. -James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

What are words?

Words. Made up of letters. Made up of sounds. But what do they mean?
In 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', James Joyce plays with the character, Stephen Dedalus, as he struggles through words and their meanings. Words are used in 2 ways:
  1. Actual Meaning: Let's use the word 'SUCK' for example. According to the Oxford Dictionary, suck means to draw into the mouth by contracting the muscles of the lip and mouth to make a partial vacuum.
  2. Figurative Meaning: As in to be a 'suck up', which means to pretty much kiss someones butt. 
The shift in words causes Stephen Dedalus to have a hard time understanding them. Does this possibly take away from their meaning?
Words are a funny thing. They are a way for people to communicate and a way for people to express
themselves. But we also use words and manipulate them & somehow lose their true meaning.

We give words so much power. Universally, everyone decided that the word 'FUCK' is a bad word. So we are left with the media censoring certain words that everyone agrees are bad. But we are forgetting that they are just words. Letters. Sounds. People are the cause of them being bad. We use them against others.

Humans are more complicated than words. Our feelings are this unknown, indescribable part of our lives and words restrict us to really express our thoughts, feelings, emotions as we are limited to happy, sad, love, hate and every synonym on top of that, that essentially mean the same thing. 

Let me create a scenario: Imagine a world with no words. We communicate visually. How would we think? What language would our thoughts be in? How does a person that is deaf hear his or her own thoughts?

The world is more complex than a 26-letter alphabet. Our emotions and our beings cannot be expressed with the simplicity of words. Such a mystifying thing holds no language, no definitions. It just is. No words can justify without the filtration. So can we really mean what we say and say what we mean as it had been processed and let out into the universe from our minds? 

And the next time you say "I love you," think about how meaningless those words mean. In writing we use the term, 'Show don't Tell'. So maybe take a step back and try to really capture your feelings even if the words you are saying do not make sense. Or better yet, use your actions to express what is happening on the inside.


Writing Tip: 


Use this in your writing and you'll see how you can make a paragraph from showing what a simple phrase as, "I was sad," can turn into a full paragraph or even a full story of what sits behind those 3 simple words.

The irony in all of this is that we are still using words to 'Show' & not 'Tell'. But, we are putting more meaning behind them and creating our own interpretive definition.

{Image by Alex Eylar}
{Comic by}


  1. Excellent post, Andrea. I basically agree. Life cannot be written or expressed in words; life can only be lived.

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