Saturday, March 18, 2017

Magic Words

I believe in magic.

There! I've said it. You now know my deepest, darkest secret.

I was raised on Fairy Tales. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin... they are but a small part of the large collection of magical stories that I loved as a child and still love today. Not only are they about magic, they are magical and magically infused with wonder and awe.

I remember learning how to read. I remember struggling to memorize the different sounds the different letters represent and how they combined to make words. I remember being in awe when the letters and sounds were magically transformed by their arrangement. Like magic incantations, subtle changes in inflection changed the sounds and the meanings. Consider o-u-g-h...

Rough (ruf). Plough (plow). Through (throo). Though (thoh). Hiccough (hik-uhp). Cough (kof). Thought (thawt).

The same arrangement of four letters, combined with different supporting letters and a slight re-shaping of the mouth creates a vast array of new ideas. It's magic!

Whether you are hearing the sounds or seeing the symbols (letters) that represent the sounds, more magic happens in your brain where they are interpreted into words and given meaning. But wait! There is even more magic to come...

The words can then invoke feelings and once feelings have been attached to them, those words become part of your actual physiology. They become part of you! Just like the nutrients in the food you eat are absorbed by your physical body, so do the words your hear and read get absorbed and cause chemical reactions, which is all emotions are.

On their own, most words are benign. Their magic is contained in the way they are combined and the way they are delivered. Words of  praise spoken with genuine admiration invoke good feelings. Words of anger, hate, fear or criticism invoke unpleasant feelings. Your words have incredible power; they can heal and they can harm.

Language is my favourite kind of magic. It is my most celebrated and most respected kind of magic, for it defines us, shapes us, influences us, scares us, uplifts us, challenges us, inspires us and creates our stories.

I realize that some people will read this and think: Pfft! There's nothing magical about language. It depends on what your definition of magic is. I define magic as anything that is inexpiable; anything that contains mystery. While we can explain certain aspects of language, written and oral, how it developed, why humans have the capacity for language at all and how the brain actually works are all still mysteries. We may take it for granted, but language is an incredible force. And it's not a matter of whether the force is with you or not - it is! - it's how you wield it and how you appreciate it that counts.

I am an editor because I believe in the magic of language and the power it has to do wonderful things such as convey ideas, teach, entertain and inspire. I'm not the Grand Wizard of the writing process; I'm more the Support Wizard, making sure that the magic that is intended is the magic that is produced.

I have no idea what I'm going to talk about next week. It's a mystery!

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