The Magic of Words

Words are magical. Perhaps, part of the magic lies within us. Words evoke images and fill them with colour like a seasoned painter. And these images are inextricably connected with our emotions and experiences. We are rarely conscious of the way the words affect our thought process and we are hardly ever aware that sound of our own words on our ears affects our thought process. And if observed carefully, you would find the experience nothing short of amazing.

Recently, I visited a company engaged in an innovative business exercise and during my visit I was asked to summarize the summarized descriptions. These descriptions were around 20 to 30 words long and were crisply written. They were to be further shrunk to 5 to 7 words without losing the essence. I found the exercise very interesting and thought provoking, especially when I started summarizing.

And it was then that I was suddenly aware of how human brain works and how ‘magical’ words actually are. It is actually possible to communicate with as few words as 5 or 6 and the rest of the words despite being relevant and indispensable in the longer arrangement would suddenly appear redundant. And the reverse is also possible. One could actually expand the 20 words sentence into a longer sentence or stretch the sentence into four or five sentences. And if this is done skillfully enough the expanded form would not have a needless word or sentence. Amazingly, this ‘magic’ is more magical than the magical shows because there is no trick or misdirection working here. The original provided does not have any unnecessary words that you cut down to shrink the expression. Similarly, while expanding you do not load it with unnecessary words. So, how does it happen? Wondering?

Actually, in both expanding and shrinking we are subconsciously changing the mode of thought process itself. It is not about words themselves but their effect on our minds. We simply take the thought process of the reader to different levels by using different sets of words in different arrangements. It is like sketching a horse and then shading it a little and then filling it with some colour and then brightening the colours a bit. The sketch remains the same, the image does not change in its essentials but its effect gets stronger with every colour and with every stroke of the brush. There is no redundancy at any stage.

But then, redundancy is closely connected with the ‘use’ and ‘usefulness’. If a horse was to be simply suggested, colouring is redundant and if its presence had to be hammered home to the viewer, nothing short of vivid colours would do. So, it is the purpose that determines the extent of detail in all art forms. The same goes for writing. In the world of shrinking attention spans, we need to say more in fewer words.

It was a wonderful experience, I must say. After all, it made me realize a few things about words and their effect. Perhaps, I would talk some more about it in my next post or in some other.  


3 thoughts on “The Magic of Words

  1. Hmmm…….. I would say somehow, i do not agree with you. OK its possible to shrink a sentence into some words, but then, y do that?

    Suppose i say “I love you” and then i say,

    ” I love you more than anything in this world. You are like God to me”.

    Which sentence do u think would make a better impact on the listener (reader)?

    In my opinion, the latter.

    In the same way if i were to say “I hate you” ,is this better or this one “I hate you more than any one else in this world, get lost from my llife!”
    Again, the latter would make a better or i should say ‘worse’ impact on the person.

    Another interesting drawback of cutting short or not being very clear:

    Once someone asked Ghalib in the holy month of ramzaan, “Miyaan aapne kitne roze rakhe hain”?

    he replied, “ek nahi rakha”……
    Now, this could mean two things:
    1. (Sirf) Ek nahi rakha, (baaki sab rakhe hain)
    2. Ek (bhi) nahi rakha.
    He should have completed the phrase with either of the two options to make himself more clear and avoid misunderstanding.

    So, its not always a very successful plan to cut short things. U often get misunderstood or u don’t make the desired impact on the listener.

    That’s why i always tell HRS, that his short and to the point responses sound very rude, at times, especially on phone, which end up either hurting people or taking him to be “arrogant” and “least interested in listening”.

    Some messages are best conveyed indirectly.

    1. Mirza Ghalib’s nebulous response was not unintended. He intended it to remain ambiguous, and this instance is often cited to underscore his undisputed understanding of the finer nuances of language and communication.

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