The Power of Words

Barb Lazar, Director of the Ford Library
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”
-Gautama Buddha
In recent days, I have been thinking about the power of words. Words and language have power; words matter. Words can inspire, words can provoke. Words can influence, and words can comfort. Words can share love and joy, words can be thoughtful, and add depth of understanding, and nuance of meaning.

When I was thinking about one of my favorite genres, dystopian fiction, it comes as no surprise that the foundation of several young adult dystopian novels is based on the use and removal of words, language, and books; it is this elimination and simplification of words and language that drive the downfall and disillusionment of society. Here is a sampling of novels that challenge our thinking about words, media, and critical thinking that we have in the Ford Library:

The List by Patricia Forde
Fahrenheit 451 meets The Giver in an award-winning dystopian story about the dangers of censorship and how far we will go in the pursuit of freedom.
What if you were only allowed to speak 500 words?
The city of Ark is the last safe place on Earth: the polar ice caps have melted and flooded everything, leaving few survivors. To make sure humans do not make the same mistakes, Ark's leader John Noa decrees everyone in Ark must speak List, a language of only 500 words. Language is to blame for mankind's destruction, John Noa says, as politicians and governments hid the disastrous effects of global warming and environmental damage until it was too late.
Everyone must speak List ... except Letta.”
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
“In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication…As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic spread of decaying language called "word flu" in which the inflicted loses the meaning of words, automatically substituting nonsense words. The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology
Feed by M.T. Anderson
For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon—a chance to party during spring break. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its ever-present ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. M.T. Anderson’s not-so-brave new world is a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.”
The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
“This fast-paced action novel is set in a future where the world has been almost destroyed. It's the story of an epileptic teenager nicknamed Spaz, who begins the heroic fight to bring human intelligence back to the planet. In a world where most people are plugged into brain-drain entertainment systems, Spaz is the rare human being who can see life as it really is. When he meets an old man called Ryter, he begins to learn about Earth and its past. With Ryter as his companion, Spaz sets off an unlikely quest to save his dying sister—and in the process, perhaps the world.”

Finally, I’d like to share some words about words:
“And, yes, words matter. They may reflect reality, but they also have the power to change reality - the power to uplift and to abase.”
-William Raspberry
“Words matter, and the right words matter most of all. In the end they're all that remain of us.”
-John Birmingham
“Words are containers for power, you choose what kind of power they carry.”
-Joyce Meyer
“In a world full of audio visual marvels, may words matter to you and be full of magic.”
-Peter Godfrey-Smith
“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
-Pearl Strachan Hurd
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
-George Orwell, 1984

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
-Robin Williams