Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The power of words... this phrase evokes thoughts of a powerful or cunning motivational speaker, who has his sometimes desperate audience hanging on his every word. His (or her) words enthrall and would seem to have the power to sway even the adamant skeptic. This is the power of words.

Then, there are those self-help gurus who endlessly nag their avid followers to think positive. If only one's thoughts and words were positive, then, surely, equally positive things would happen in one's life. This too, it seems, would be an indication of the power of words.

I have a friend, a dear friend, who gets angry if I bring up the topic of death, particularly when I speak hypothetically of my own. He hates the fact that I would dare speak of it, as though to merely utter the word death could evince the thing. How irrational my friend is, I think. The simple utterance of a word or words cannot cause a thing to happen. Grant it, thinking positively has its merits as would thinking negatively have its demerits. But a word or words in and of themselves have no such power as a curse, charm or magical spell, that through their mere utterance cause the thing they speak of to occur.

If such were the case, I have argued with my friend, then having just repeated the words "a million dirham, a million dirham" I would have long since become a Mashreq Millionaire.

But it seems that the power my friend fears in the word death is a power that comes particularly when the association is negative. It is a classic superstition--the old bad luck, evil eye syndrome. I, being the total rationalist, dismiss the whole notion of superstition, whether in the guise of good luck or bad. Words have no such power, do they? Absolutely not.

But what if one says, in a sense of crass humor or detached rationality, "May X die!" ~x being say, a dear loved one--a mother, a father, a spouse or a sibling. I, the unemotional rationalist, could say such a thing to prove the point, that simply saying a thing in no way results in the empowerment of the words. The funny thing, though, is that if I were, in fact, to say and repeat such a thing, it would certainly feel funny--or rather eerie, as if to validate my friend's reactions and discredit my argument.

I am not a superstitious person, however. It is pure nonsense to believe that X causes Y when X and Y have no tangible connection in the least. But I am still emotional, even though I would presume to be a rationalist. It is that emotional sense that tugs at the rational mind and suggests that words, especially those which are dark or foreboding, have the power to jinx. Although I can see no harm in saying "May X die!" whether in jest or argument, to do so produces an emotional sense of discomfort.

So, my friend is probably not so superstitious after all--at least not in this regard. He does not really believe that words have such power. That is not to say, however, that words are impotent. Clearly they have the power to inspire, but fortunately not to cast a hex!

555 words

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