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On Words...


When we have ideas they are deep and rich, yet to communicate them, even to ourselves, we have to make do with the paltry limitations of the language and our grasp of it. The best we can do is to work to master our words, for if we can do this we can use this lever to move marvellous ideas out of our deeper thoughts and into the world.

See also

art, attention*, constraints, connections*, effort, fragility, knowledge, mind*, thinking


‘Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.’

John Adams

‘The greatest thing by far is to be master of metaphor.’


‘Words are pegs to hang ideas on.’

Henry Ward Beecher

‘But words are things, and a small drop of ink, Falling like dew upon a thought, produces That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.’

George Byron

‘Words, as is well known, are great foes of reality.’

Joseph Conrad

‘The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man.’

José Ortega Y Gasset

‘If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things.’


‘The fact is that if you have not developed language, you simply don’t have access to most of human experience, and if you don’t have access to experience, then you’re not going to be able to think properly.’

Noam Chomsky

‘The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought.’

Albert Einstein

‘Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a second stage, where the associative play already referred to is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.’

Albert Einstein

‘It’s strange that words are so inadequate. Yet, like the asthmatic struggling for breath, so the lover must struggle for words.’

T. S. Eliot

‘With a poem you can say ‘I got my feeling into words for myself. I now have the equivalent in words for that much of what I have felt.’

T. S. Eliot

‘An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.’

Robert Frost

‘When ideas fail, words come in handy.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.’

Herbert Hoover

‘Language is the dress of thought.’

Samuel Johnson

‘ Definition is the enclosing the wilderness of idea within a wall of words.’

Samuel Johnson

‘Words are but the signs of ideas.’

Samuel Johnson

‘Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.’

Rudyard Kipling

‘True creativity often starts where language ends.’

Arthur Koestler

‘Writing is like walking in a deserted street. Out of the dust in the street you make a mud pie.’

John Le Carré

‘The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.’

Ursula LeGuin

‘If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.’

Anaïs Nin

‘More wisdom is latent in things as they are than in all the words men use.’

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

‘Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.’

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

‘Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.’

Benjamin Whorf

‘We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it.’

Benjamin Whorf

‘If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.’

Ludwig Wittgenstein



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