The Power of the Written Word

“There is a weird power in a spoken word.… And a word carries far – very far….” Lord Jim (1900) Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

“… Work is carried out through knowledge; and see… the words endure through writing…” The teaching for Merikare  c. 2135-2040 B.C.

“Words have a longer life than deeds.” Nemean Odes, Heraclitus   c. 540-480 B.C.

I had a wonderful mother-in-law, and if you have one too, you know what a major blessing this can be. Jessie and I got along very well, and in fact there was really only one issue we ever had: Jessie was addicted to the tabloids – you know, those little newspapers you buy at the supermarket checkout stand? Not that this was a bad thing, but Jessie believed. She believed every word that was ever written in those publications.

Jesse was a schoolteacher, a librarian, read at least 20 publications every week, and at one point had read every book in her small branch library.  When I asked her, “Jessie, you are an intelligent, educated woman. Why do you believe every word written in those tabloids?” She explained, simply:

“They wouldn’t write it down if it weren’t true.”

For at least 2,000 years, mankind has struggled to describe the power of the written word. And Jessie got it in nine words.

The written word has a weight – a power – that the spoken word cannot match. And to this day, with all of our sophisticated electronic communication media, the written word – online or on paper – is still more credible. This becomes a major issue, not only for adults in the workforce, but especially for young people. Discernment is essential.

Referring to Emerson’s quote, “There is no knowledge that is not power,” my favorite teenage friend noted that perhaps this statement could be re-stated to read, “There is no knowledge that cannot be used to gain power,” and that “the burden of knowledge comes from the choice of how to use it….

“Knowledge itself is not what moves worlds, changes nations, or brings civilizations to ruin. People do that, using whatever is at their disposal, and the greatest resource of all is knowledge. The spread of it, the use of it, and the concealing of it is what drives history.”

Producing the written word is a serious responsibility. Readers will believe what you write. So say it honestly, clearly, and accurately. As Joseph Pulitzer said:

“Put it before them briefly, so they will read it; clearly, so they will appreciate it; picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”


Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or to learn more.

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