“May hurt my bones; but words, they can kill.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox captured the power of a single spoken dart-like word: “You never can tell when you send a word like an arrow shot from a bow, by an archer blind, be it cruel or kind, just where it may chance to go. It may pierce the breast of your dearest friend, tipped with its poison or balm, to a stranger’s heart in life’s great mart it may carry its pain or its calm.”
Napoleon Bonaparte said that if he had command of 26 lead soldiers (the French alphabet) he could conquer the world.
A noted lexicographer listed what he considered to be the ten most impressive words in the English language: (1) Alone, the bitterest word; (2) Mother, the most revered word; (3) Death, the most tragic; (2) Faith, brings the greatest comfort; (5) Forgotten, the saddest; (6) love, the most beautiful; (7) revenge, the cruelest; (8) friendship, the warmest; (9) No, the coldest and (10) tranquility, the most peaceful. (copied)
From the pages of recent history, the power of words has a tragic example. Lee Atwater, in 1980, was a political campaign manager. His staff learned that an opposing congressman from South Carolina had once experienced severe depression and had undergone electric shock therapy. When Atwater released the information to the press, it humiliated the candidate and cast doubt on his ability to lead. In anguish, the candidate questioned Atwater’s integrity for releasing this personal and possible damaging health information, but Atwater retorted that he had no time to respond to someone “hooked up to a jumper cable.” Ten years later, Atwater himself became the victim of an incurable brain tumor which confined him to bed where he was attached to innumerable tubes and wires, and before he died, he wrote to the candidate a letter begging his forgiveness, realizing how cruel his haughty and heartless words had been.
On a lighter note, a gentleman was once asked to deliver a brief address to the alumni of Yale University, so he based his talk on the letters YALE. He began by saying that Y stands for Youth—the young people who come to the university with such enthusiasm and promise. The A, he continued, represents achievement, the success of the school’s graduates. After lengthy remarks on L (loyalty) and E (enthusiasm) he concluded his 90-minute discourse and took a seat. During the pause that followed the speech, a bored visitor commented to his friend, “I’m glad he didn’t graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!”
And the right word is important as illustrated by this humorous tale of a teacher who shared some answers received from students on assignments. One student said that “The pistol of a flower is its only protection against insects.” Another bright boy said that the word “germinate” meant to become a naturalized German citizen and that a vacuum was where the pope lived. A fibula, another student offered, is a small lie and a terminal illness is (you guessed it) what happens when you get sick at the airport! Words!
A popular magazine reported that the average man speaks 25,000 words a day and the average woman 30,000. To which one man replied, “When I come home from work each day, I have spoken my 25,000 words, and my wife hasn’t started her 30,000 yet!”
And from nature’s school on life, have you heard about the cranes that come from the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey? These cranes cackle a lot while flying, and the noise of their cackles belies their position to predator eagles which swoop down and grab them up for a meal. The cranes who have survived these attacks have learned to pick up stones large enough to fill their mouths, inhibiting their ability to cackle and thus preventing them from becoming lunch for eagles! Solomon wisely warned that “a fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” (Proverbs 18:7)
James, of course, wrote explicitly of the havoc that hellish words can wreak: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:6)
Jesus warned His disciples that it was that which “cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” He went on to detail some of that which cometh out of the mouth: “…evil thoughts, murders, adulteries fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man….” (Mark 15:11,19,20)
So, words can kill, and words can cure. Solomon: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
So, stand up, speak out and use words wisely, remembering always that what is said with our mouths reflects our inner most being, our character core. Say well what you say, knowing that words can kill, and words can cure!
“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23)