It was a simple question, one that called for a quick response based on personal experience. The halting response was painful to witness. He bowed his head and thought, he asked for more time, he made repeated false starts and in the end barely uttered a full sentence.
He lacks neither intelligence nor determination. He is a successful student in a scientific field of study where he may spend more time in the natural wilds than in an urban jungle. He is, like many in his intended profession, simply a man of few words, but in this circumstance I suspect he was dangerously close to yelling, “Away with words!”
While I empathized with his discomfort, I could not identify with his difficulty. I am, according to both close and casual observers, a woman of many words. I have been told I have “a way with words.”
There is no denying I love words. A friend told me recently he has two songs playing in his head at all times. (It explains a lot about his random body movements during long meetings where the rest of us are bored to inertia.) I wanted to match his quirk by explaining my own—the simple fact that words are continually whirling and swirling through my mind. (I didn’t, of course, because he was telling his story, not asking for mine.)
The words in my head come as stand-alone words, not yet grafted into cohesive thought. They often parade like models on a runway, each holding its head high in order to draw attention to its unique ability to be the choice word to dress a particular phrase. In restful moments, they simply frolic through my mind, rumbling and tumbling for the pure delight of it and allowing me to smile and nod because I like them all so much.
There are a couple of problems with having “a way with words.” The most obvious is that I am prone to use too many. I easily wear thin the patience of those who are less fascinated by an aptly written or spoken turn of phrase.
Similarly choosing the perfect word—and, yes, there are words that convey thoughts more accurately than others—can produce a derisive retort from people who prefer a familiar word to one that more accurately conveys the intended thought. Their denouncements of me as snob would be more interesting and insightful if they had cultivated the friendship of a few more words themselves.
Those of us who have “a way with words” learn at an early age to use them to our best advantage. As a toddler when other children were throwing blocks and tantrums, I am pretty sure I was internally crafting my first persuasive arguments to use on my parents when I could actually talk.
This tactic honed on parents was equally effective when I was the parent. With children of my own, I learned I could stun them into submission with a barrage of words they couldn’t understand. One of my sons told me once, in all seriousness, I wish you were more like other moms and would just hit us instead of explaining so much all the time.
The most troublesome aspect of having a way with words is that people confuse having a way with words with having something to say. Therein lies my dilemma. I love words too much to use them for unworthy purposes. I don’t want to add more noise to a word-saturated world if it doesn’t provoke a positive difference in their lives.
Who has more to offer? The one who has “a way with words” or the one who declares “away with words” and then moves on to action?