The power of words

POLONIUS: What do you read my lord?

HAMLET: Words, words, words...

Ludwig Wittgenstein said that thoughts are “logical pictures” of what happens in the world. Thoughts are projected or shared using “propositions” and propositions make up language. He then claimed that the logic of language and the use of words provide the scaffold on which we construct our world; it follows that the limit of language is the limit of the world.

The world is a wonderfully complex, profound, mundane, magical, exhilarating, tragic, funny place. If we believe Wittgenstein, it is the power of words that create our world. Just pause and consider that; the words we use in everyday thought and conversation have the power to create the "Universe" as we know it. Words limit the experiences we can report to ourselves and others and therefore knowledge, which is based on reporting what we experience of the world, is created by words and limited by the use of words.

Words are immensely powerful and such power is readily available to us all; we can change our world by changing the words we use. For example, when my Parkinson’s diagnosis came and knocked me down I could of said, “My life is over now, I can’t do anything and I’m disabled and useless”. Using such words creates a world in which you are useless and disabled and can’t do anything. Words set the limit to your world. However, when I was diagnosed I was determined not to succumb to the disease and I've tried to live alongside it; this is the world I live in because I created it using specific words.

Of course words can’t change the state in which we exist (i.e. our thrownness which can include susceptibility to Parkinson’s) but they are crucial in determining our reaction to the world and our thrownness within it; it is in this reaction that our "world" is created.

dr jonny
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

The old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Linguistically, which came first, the word or the idea? The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis supports the notion that one's language restricts or enlarges one's worldly experience. I accept that it colors experience and limits our expression of personal experience (our sensations), but I am not sure I can accept that words precede ideas. Systems of language are so complex that I believe both orders (words to ideas and ideas to words) are possible and co-exist in every mind.

As you point out, the real importance to a pwp is making beneficial use of language. Using words with positive connotations renders more favorable our view of ourselves and our medical predicament. Thus I try to reinforce my optimism. Yet I also avoid euphemisms, which always sound insincere to me, as if the speaker were in denial of the truth. I do not shy from saying "handicapped" rather than "challenged," for instance. We are all handicapped in some way. The absurdity of euphemisms is clear in such jocular use as "height-challenged" or "honesty-challenged."

Keep writing those positive words, dr jonny!

Call a spade a spade I say as long as it is not insulting. Only posh people say shovel and they may look at one, but very rarely use it.