What do words mean to me?

I’ve always been fascinated by words. Ever since I was very small, I’d wanted to immerse myself in them. I could read (more or less self-taught) before I started infants’ school (leading to much frustration for the teachers who were trying to teach me stuff I could already do, so I sat there bored and idle, wanting them to tell me something I didn’t already know). And I plundered the local library for books, losing myself in stories.

Was it escapism, even then? Perhaps. I wasn’t Little Miss Popular when I was a kid, though I had friends. I wasn’t part of the in-crowd and never wanted to be, but that left me open to all sorts of bullying, thankfully not physical, but the other kind can be just as painful, as far too many people will be able to testify. Because words have power. Some words are sharp, and those ones can cut deeply, leaving ugly scars. I’ve nearly reached the age at which life is supposed to begin, and some of those scars have still not faded. Oh, yes. I’m aware of the power of words.

My life is made up of words. Same as everyone else, I suppose, but there is plainly a large section of society who are oblivious to their importance. They go through life, talking, gossipping, making small-talk. Talking about what happened last night on EastEnders or that blot on the landscape known as TOWIE. They talk about that girl in the queue who was so fat she took up the space of two people. Or that bloke who smells and has a wonky eye. That weird kid who walks with a limp.

Have I been immune to this kind of gossip? Of course not. I’m human, like everyone else. But I do know that a kind word can go an awfully long way. “Please.” “Thank you.” “Excuse me.” All of these are, sadly, all too rare. The other day, I was changing Tube lines at King’s Cross. A woman ran for a train, which was about to pull out of the station. In her hurry to get there, she shot past me and shoved me out of the way. I said “Excuse me!”, not quietly. She didn’t even turn round. Words had no effect on her. They bounced off. She was too preoccupied by the fact that she’d missed her train. There was a sense of poetic justice in that. I could have felt smug. Instead, I felt she’d got what she deserved. I’ll leave you to imagine the kind of words which rolled around in my head after that little incident. “Inconsiderate” was one. “Bitch” was another. Put those two together. Go on. There were more, of course, but those will do for now.

Words also have power in other ways. I have spent a huge chunk of my life, much of which has been time when I should have been asleep (or working), lost in someone else’s world. A world they’ve made up using nothing but words. Their worlds were more real, sometimes, than the one I was living in. Sometimes, they still are. And it’s still a form of escape. Escape from what’s horrible. Escape from the brainwashing media. Escape from the empty, useless, false words of politicians.

Books tell you the truth. Even fiction. Especially fiction. Truths that maybe you didn’t want to know. Truths about society. Truths about people. Truths about yourself. And that’s often the hardest truth to confront.

Words can weave magic. Hell, words are magic. I’m not talking about magic spells. I don’t believe we need to intone certain words to alter the energy that surrounds us. Magic is everywhere. I dare you. Call me a hippy. You won’t be the first to call me that and it’s only a word. I can live with that.

Words make music into songs. Songs can change lives. Songs can save lives. Sometimes, the words of a song resonate so deeply that they make you cry. They vibrate inside your heart. Words can hurt, but they can also heal. Sometimes, we don’t need words at all. Sometimes, they’re just there, hanging in the air, unspoken, but heard all the same.

So the old adage about words not being able to hurt… That’s nonsense. And everyone who’s ever been stung by a harsh or unkind or cruel word will say the same. Occasionally, we need to hear certain words. Not because we don’t know something. Just because. They’re magic. They have power.

Use them wisely.

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