The average adult knows about 10,000 to 20,000 words, using about half of those words commonly while speaking.
Shakespeare is estimated to have known around 66,000 words, using a variety of them in his writings and even creating many of the words we now include in our English dictionary…
We’re not so impressive now, are we?
I’ve wondered before how a man like any other could amass such a huge vocabulary. Are all those words even worth knowing, much less actually using in his works? Surely he could have wasted less time if he hadn’t created words like auspicious and spilth. Or maybe, just maybe, Shakespeare was consumed with a passion for meaningful words.
By meaningful, I don’t mean sentimental (which is usually what comes to mind first); meaningful words are ones that have a specific purpose and connotation. “Good” can be applied to all sorts of situations, whether or not it’s the best way to describe them. On the other hand, “abhorrent” is a word reserved for the most undesirable, revolting things. I guess we as a society have lost our care for meaningful words, as we don’t really hear “fancy” words like auspicious floating around in our conversations anymore. I understand that in a world where we constantly look for easier, effortless ways to go about life, it’s easier to have pre-cooked, muscle memory phrases for any situation. But is the easier way really better?
Think of a time when you’ve asked a friend what they thought of your semester final essay. Have you ever heard the words, “That was really good, I liked it a lot.”? Did you ever think to yourself afterwards, “I wish they would have been more specific” or “I still have no idea how to make it better.”?
When we take the easy way out and just spit out the first words our mouth can come up with, we are not being beneficial to others at all. Sure, none of your words may be hurtful, but are they helpful? Intentionality is the key to your words having any effect. We have all heard people who choose their words to hit a vulnerable spot in others and tear them down; this is how bullies rule over others. But those who choose their words intentionally to build others up become those we all go to for advice and help. Either way, though, intentionality creates influence. Does being told “Yeah, you look really nice today” make you grow more confident about any particular part of yourself? Does hearing “Dude, that was dumb” permanently damage any soft spot in you? No. Without depth and purpose, no one will be changed by what you say. For better or worse.
I’m not endorsing beating around the bush, sugar-coated talk, but we need to think of the right way to help someone with our words, having something worth saying when we speak. 2 Timothy 2:16 in the NLT says “Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.” This shows how you don’t even have to say destructive things to cause others to backtrack in their growth. Just a lack of intentionality in what we say can lead others into ungodly behavior that will stifle their real growth, and it’s harmful to both the hearer and the speaker.
Even people who haven’t read the Bible understand the concept described in Proverbs 18:21, that “death and life are in the power of the tongue…”. We choose what we do and don’t give to others by how we speak to them, and it’s better to choose than be indifferent. I don’t know about you, but I choose to give life through what I say.
When a young lady needs some confidence, tell her how beautiful her eyes look in the sun or how her genuine desire to help others encourages you to do the same. When that young man gets self-conscious about things going wrong, tell him how proud you are of his determination to power though and improve. Find something specific to that person and make them feel worth your time and attention. It will mean so much more than a simple “you’re pretty cool” and you can expect more life to grow out of that person. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11). That kind of word is worth gold.
Find a purpose for your words. Don’t settle for less than exactly what you mean. If you don’t have the right words, that’s fine. If you have to make a fantastical combination of words to describe a situation, do it. Make up your own words like Shakespeare did, if you must, but choose carefully what you say. Many times in the Bible, people were described as wise if they were intentional about their words. What you say affects others’ perceptions of you, how much influence you have in others’ lives, and what you’re pouring into others.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
-Ephesians 4:29 ESV
“A man has joy in giving an appropriate answer, And how good and delightful is a word spoken at the right moment- how good it is!”
-Proverbs 15:23 AMP
People are complex, individual, and unique. Each one is worth a different set of a thousand specific words. Let us not settle for our microwaved compliments and overused comments any longer. Be intentional and meaningful with all that you say so that you can see the positive fruit of your words growing in others.