Sunday, 18 November 2018

More About the Power of Words by Georgie Tennant

Contrary to popular belief, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is not the longest word in the English language.  This new-found knowledge ruined my children’s week when I told them; it’s going to take them some time to master its replacement, which, in case you were wondering, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, - a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of fine silica particles from a volcano. 

SWIMS still says SWIMS when you look at it upside down (try not to crick your neck as you contort to see if this is true).

Around 1000 new words are added to the dictionary every year (my excuse for being so out of touch with the language of the ‘yoof’ I teach).

These little gems (and I know, I’m safe, amongst fellow word-admirers, to reveal my inner geek and call them that) made themselves known to me as I gathered some thoughts for a sermon I preached last week, about the power of words (should you wish to spend a further 16 minutes dwelling on the topic, my sermon can be found here).  I wrote, last month, under the same title, and, as I gathered the material for the sermon, I decided there was another blog in there somewhere.  I fear, in fact, that there is so much worthy material under that title, that I will be turning blogs into sermons and back into blogs and then more sermons, riding an infinite topic-loop for some time to come.

I’m sure you will indulge me and agree that it’s a topic worth dwelling on.  Words are our everyday currency and we can’t get enough of them.  They fill awkward silences and keep us entertained.  We read and listen to them, record ideas and create with them.  The lonely and alone crave them.  On long, wet cooped-up-with-the-family afternoons, we long to escape them!  They build up, calm and comfort, explain, analyse, solve.  They can sting and wound, used thoughtlessly and destructively; their absence, when they should have been said, can hurt too.

My children love looking back over a notebook I used to keep of funny things they said when they were little.  My oldest son’s favourite is one from an occasion when we were heading out for the afternoon to visit a friend, who had just had a baby called William; he asked, in his sincere not-quite-two-year-old squeaky voice, if we were going to see ‘Willy Babyam.’  'Fire mixtinguisher' was another cute mispronunciation we didn’t correct for a long time. Whilst they enjoy entertaining themselves with comedic highlights of their younger lives, I’m glad that some of the silly and downright unpleasant things I have said at times, haven’t ended up on the pages of a notebook - I’m sure I’m not alone in that. 

As I undertook a spot of Googling on the topic (as all good sermon-writers do!) I uncovered a questionable piece of research, which concluded that an average person speaks 860.3 million words in their lifetime, the equivalent to narrating the Oxford English Dictionary 14.5 times (don’t some of us feel that our children achieve this before lunch, some days?!).  This raises all sorts of questions, caveats and variables depending on character, of course – but imagine for a moment that it even partly reflects reality.  That is a lot of words. 

A thought-provoking article on the Crosswalk website raises a challenging point: “We could fill a library in a lifetime – if we did, what would the titles of these books be?” How are we using our words – to gossip, slander, moan, complain, berate, tear down?  Or to build up, encourage, support, illuminate, and ultimately point people to Jesus, the Word above all words, who can forgive, set free and break the chains of other words that might have been spoken over us?

As writers, too, we have such a privilege and responsibility.  We may not write as many words as we speak, but, in writing them down, they have a permanence, weight and lasting impact that our spoken ones lack.  “Out of the overflow of the heart,” says a verse in Matthew’s gospel, “the mouth speaks.” We could replace those last three words with, “the pen writes.”  Let’s challenge ourselves, today, to stay so connected to the Word who was there in the beginning (John 1v1), that all of our words, spoken and written, flow from our connection with Him and are, as far as possible in our human frailty, “sweet to the soul and healing to the bones,” (Proverbs 16v24) for all who hear or read them.

Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections.’ She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog:


  1. We had a similar notebook when our kids were growing up in which to record the funny things they said. When they got slightly older, they started writing in the funny things WE said. So, some comments are labelled 'Sarah, aged 7' and some are labelled 'Dad, aged 36'. We filled up two books in the end. They are on our shelf and called 'The Funny Books'. I know that, had we not kept these records, all those funny 'word' moments would be lost.

  2. A friend's daughter works for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and she does presentations in schools. Apparently, words like bluebells and conkers are being removed from some children's dictionaries as being irrelevant to modern children. It's to make room for words like software and motherboard. God is everywhere, but surely some of the best experiences are in the natural world.

  3. Isn't that why the Lost Words project has been so well received?

  4. My favourite statement by my son was when he was about 7, coming up the stairs behind me, and suddenly said 'It's not me, it's someone else'. The philosophical repercussions of this are endless! Also, when about 3 or 4, he asked, 'Mummy, where does the sky begin?'. What a profound mind he must have (he's 24 now, so I see less evidence of it...)