The Power of Words

Yes, yes, I know, I need to be studying.  Right at the moment I’ve been looking at keto and enol tautomers so long I’m going cross-eyed and beginning to think the entire universe is made of straight lines and random letters.  So I’m just philosophizing to unwind a little, if that’s okay.

Happy Halloween to those that do things like that!  Here we’re winding up to November 5, and it’s time to dig out my favorite meme of all time again:


(I’m suspecting most of my readership doesn’t actually get the joke on that one; don’t worry about it, it’s a good movie, but not a good movie, if you catch my drift. And Walter, VidAngel will not fix it for you, it will have a little meltie instead.)

However.  Today I wanna talk about words.  I talk a lot of complete nonsense (ask anyone who knows me IRL) and unless I’ve deliberately put myself on my best behavior (at family gatherings, at church… places where I’m uncomfortably aware I’m supposed to appear normal) I talk quite rapidly about things that interest me.  The old chestnut about ‘if I’m weird around you it means I’m comfortable’ applies.

Also I write.  I spend a lot of time picking out exactly the right words for what I want to say, and you better believe that means I understand how important the right words can be.  I am getting somewhere with this, calm down.

Words are powerful things.  Jesus knew that, possibly first.  Which explains why he made such a big deal out of people just saying random things.

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. – Matt. 12:36, NIV

Here’s the thing: stuff you say, maybe you meant it, maybe you didn’t, maybe it was even a lie, probably thirty seconds later you forgot it completely… you have no idea how long your words will be remembered.  Could be years.

There’s this headcanon I have about that verse – that at the end, on ‘the day of judgment’, you’ll finally be told where those ’empty words’ went.  You’ll be told who spiraled off into a well of depression because of something you said.  Who aimed higher than they could really reach because they thought you believed in them, and made it.  Or didn’t.

I’ve got a few examples to share, to show how enduring words can be – I’ve checked back on one or two of these, and the people who originally said them not only didn’t remember, they found it very strange indeed that I did.

The following quotes are deliberately unattributed.

“You can’t wear those shoes, they’re so clodhoppy.”  Twelve years ago. (Context: I was a flowergirl at a wedding, and the shoes really were clodhoppy but I thought they were great.) Nowadays I have a real thing for shoes, I love them, and I worry (for days ahead of time, if it’s an important occasion) about whether X shoes are really okay to wear with Y clothes for Z occasion.

“Go away, you can’t play with us until you don’t wear glasses, you’re weird.”  Eleven years ago.  I still doesn’t wear glasses if I’ve got another option, and I avoid trying to hang out with ‘normal’ people.

“You don’t get this, do you?  It doesn’t work like that. You should stop.”  Five or six years ago.  And I did stop.  And while I don’t really regret it now, because I’m into stuff I find interesting, and I don’t have time for that particular thing anymore, back then it stung.

“Oh, I don’t do that anymore, I’m too old for that.”  Again, five or six years ago.  Said very loudly by someone my age, with whom I had been doing precisely ‘that’ not a week previously, in a group of people I desperately wanted to fit in with, after I had casually said I liked making things related to the activity in question. I couldn’t decide whether to drop the ‘friend’ or the hobby – so I kept tagging along behind the ‘friend’ and continuing the hobby in private.  When I got back from England I learned to my surprise that I’d somehow managed to drop both without really noticing.  Je ne regrette rien.

“You have such lovely nails!” Six or seven years ago.  I haven’t bitten my nails since and has many times consoled myself over real or imagined flaws with oh well, at least I have lovely nails.

“You’re one of the brightest people I know.”  The balance of probability, plus who said it, plus the circumstances under which it was said, add up to suggest this one was almost certainly a full and conscious lie. Particularly as that person is very far from being stupid. But it was said in early June, and by late August, when I’d already worked out that it was a lie, I was still doing my absolute darndest to live up to it, and it made a difference at a time when the difference had to be made.

“Now is not the time to doubt your own competence.”  On the face of it that sounds backhanded at best, but the person who said it doesn’t really do positivity, so coming from them it was huge, and it’s kept me going for something like a year-and-a-half now.

“You trying out for the team is largely a formality, you know.”  Same person, within the meaning of the loophole.  I tried out anyway and was happy to prove them right – knowing they were confident that I could do it helped a lot, though.

Words.  Very random words.  Of the people mentioned above, all of them have one thing in common: at the time, their opinion was of huge significance to me.  Some of ’em, if they said the same thing under similar circumstances today, I’d shrug it off and go ‘who asked you anyway?’  But then? Oh, then it mattered.

So, the take-home, which I usually avoid doing but this time I think it’s important, is this: right at this precise instant, someone cares what you think, and will remember some of what you say forever. It might not be what you thought mattered most.  It might be a throwaway ’empty word’.  It might not even be true!  Please be careful.

Thanks for reading.


About coruscantbookshelf

"A writer is an introvert: someone who wants to tell you a story but doesn't want to have to make eye contact while doing it." - Adapted from John Green
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18 Responses to The Power of Words

  1. sarahtps says:

    I see that meme all over the internet, and yet I still don’t know where it’s from . . . I should look into that. Not to watch the movie, but just to have some understanding of the joke. (I have a suspicion it’s referencing V for Vendetta, though.)
    Anyway. Internet jokes aside- very insightful post. Convicting as well; thinking what the things I’ve said offhandedly might’ve done (particularly to my sister) is mildly terrifying.
    Also, I like how your examples move gradually from negative to positive ones.


    • I made that version myself (first meme I ever made, because I needed it). It’s from the first Taken movie, and the original monologue goes like this:
      “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
      Taken’s a good movie, not a good movie – and V For Vendetta is with Hugo Weaving, not Liam Neeson, and for various reasons of which casting is not one, I can, with a clean conscience, thoroughly recommend it.
      I’m glad it made you think; that was kind of the point.
      And the thematic shift; I’m not sure why, but if I can compare it to walking in the woods picking up acorns, it seems like I pocket the good ones more often than the bad ones nowadays. Which is just as well for all concerned, really.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sarahtps says:

        Ahhh. Ok. Thank you for clarifying all that. (For the record: I can’t recognize actors at all. Well, occasionally I can. But that’s a one-in-a-million thing.)
        And regarding your acorn illustration- makes sense. nods

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wear glasses too. 😉 I had to take them off to put on the mask in the promo photos and I couldn’t see a thing. 😛
    Some people throw out words with such abandon, as if they think that nothing can ever touch them. (As in the two people who drove past me and shouted out of car windows this past summer–I still have no idea what they were shouting, but it probably wasn’t complimentary.) I’ve resolved that if people ever insult me, I’ll go on smiling, or, if the context is appropriate enough, call them a ham-fisted bun vendor aloud rather than keeping it to myself….
    “Now is not the time to doubt your own competence.” I like that. I think I might just have to borrow it.


    • My gosh yes having to take glasses off all the time! I have to ditch mine for battles and then I have to ask ‘what’s happening over there’. But contact lenses! Contacts are great when you can afford them.
      I think the problem is that people think their words will never touch anyone else unless they want them to. The serious pep-talk where you really need someone to remember you think they’re great might slip by unnoticed, while the one single time you called them a moron sticks.
      You could try di’kutla or’dinii demagolka if the situation warrants that. But yeah. Smiling is good.
      Oh dear, it’s catching. (That person has a rather nice turn of phrase in general; I’m often tempted to borrow, but they might notice. You should be safe enough.)


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