The tools of our trade as we labor every day.
And certainly that's true, as far as the saying goes,
But we have no monopoly, as everybody knows.
Not just necessary tools are all the precious words
for the erudite authors and the loquacious nerds,
But necessary, really, to let human life persist,
For without any words, even thoughts cannot exist.
(Janet Muirhead Hill, 2008)
Words are essential tools indeed. I have a grandson with verbal apraxia, which is a motor speech disorder characterized by inability to plan and produce the specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw, and palate necessary for intelligible speech. The same problems can occur in adults as a result of stroke or other brain injury, but childhood apraxia is present at birth. There is evidence that it is genetic, though the exact cause has not been found.
Apraxia is terribly frustrating for the affected child, because they're often highly intelligent. They know what they want to say, but cannot communicate it. Uncorrected, it will remain a problem, some sources say, for a lifetime. My grandson, with speech therapy, has made great improvement and no longer suffers from the esteem-crushing defeat he used to feel when he could not make himself understood. I mention this as an example of how important our words are to life and happiness.
What if we had no words at all? What if we didn't even know what we wanted to say; had never heard a human voice or any model for expressing thoughts vocally? I recently caught a TV documentary on feral children. Studies show that those who have little or no human contact or interaction in their first few years of life lose the capability to learn to speak. And without speech, they are unable to function independently in society.
Except for the limited few mentioned above, we all use words everyday. What is important to our personal identity and self-worth is how we choose to use them. Are our words a true reflection of what we believe? Or are they used to deceive and manipulate? Do our words, as John Gardner suggests they should, improve the human situation? Looking at it that way, we see our responsibility to choose words carefully, but even more important, to speak, and not remain silent when we have something to say. As Henry David Thoreau said, "Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe."
I sincerely invite your comments.