Sunday, 9 July 2017

“When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty, “it means exactly what I want it to mean, no more and no less.” by Ros Bayes

Humpty Dumpty by Teniel

I have just sat through BBC Question Time. Regardless of which party you support, which politicians you favour, and whether you are for or against Brexit, if you also watched it, I think you would have to agree that from most of the panellists it was a Masterclass in using words which sounded like the English language but which had been emptied of almost all coherent English meaning. Participants happily contradicted themselves apparently unawares, asserted things of which they could have no knowledge whatever, and wilfully misunderstood one another.

I couldn’t help noticing the contrast with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5. 37: “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” St Paul said something similar: “The things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No? But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (2 Corinthians 1. 17-20)

Jesus described His followers as a city set on a hill, a light that is not hidden under a bushel measure, the salt of the earth. And for us as Christian writers, I think part of what that means is that we do not equivocate and manipulate language, but that we dare to say boldly exactly what we believe to be the truth. That’s not to say that we ride roughshod over what other people are saying if it doesn’t accord with what we believe God has said; remember that St Paul also said, “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” After all, God’s desire is that no one remains “outside” but that everyone understands and responds to His love.

Nor does it mean that we spell out everything in words of one syllable. Jesus has given us the finest examples of stories where the meaning is not plain, and cannot easily be teased out by human reason alone. There’s nothing wrong with writing stories in which some Holy Spirit prompting is needed to reveal the spiritual truths contained in the narrative. But I think it does mean taking seriously the responsibility not to mislead or manipulate with our words in the way that we see so many public figures doing.

Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof ( as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at and her author page at Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting. 


  1. Beautifully put, Ros. We live in a world where it is difficult to pin down exactly what is being said, and where words mean little. It is superb to have a reminder that we have great examples of what should be done, in the bible itself

  2. Just found your blog and warmed to it at once, I used to belong to an ecumenical parish and we had elements of four traditions in our services throughout the year. In January, we always stood to say together the Methodist Covenant. I can't tell you how good it is to read it again. Thank you. Great post today, too!

    1. My Methodist pilgrimage has been a little derailed by my middle daughter's frequent hospital admissions, my mother's death and my youngest daughter's wedding, so I am disappointed not to have posted more about it. But I haven't abandoned it, and will resume when circumstances allow.