Most days I do not think too much about it. But yesterday I became very aware of how many words I use. That is not surprising, since I am still teaching. And certainly we know that teaching entrails speaking, even though I never lecture to the students. I could lecture, but that would prove nothing except that I could talk all the time. If I am talking all the time, how could I know whether they are learning anything?
I do not spend every waking hour talking. In fact I am essentially an introvert. So I enjoy time by myself. Solitude has never been a problem, especially since I have been an adult. As a teenager, I am sure too much time by myself caused some anxiety. But teenagers are anxious as a matter of course! So I was probably no crazier than any other teenager.
I am curious how many words I use in one day? I truly have no clue. It has to be in the thousands of words. I wish I had some kind of “word count” that I could check, much like I can check the word count on my computer to see how many words are in a document.
Once I read a study that suggested the average university educated person has a base vocabulary of about 17,000 words. A base vocabulary means a word like “time” only counts one time, even though we can use words like “timely,” etc. If we count the related words, like “time” and “timely,” then we can easily say the average person knows about 50,000 words. That is many more than I suspect the average person would guess.
It actually amazes me to think that when I step into a classroom, I have so many possibilities. In fact, I might even have more possibilities, since I know some technical language in theology and spirituality. And I have some familiarity with foreign languages, so I may be slightly above average. It fascinates me how I choose the many words that I choose.
Certainly there are two factors that govern many word choices. I would identify those two factors as my intent and the context. Let me elaborate on both. Intent gives a potential conversation some focus. For example, if I walk into a class on spiritual disciplines, I am not likely to start talking about major league baseball. I know a fair amount about major league baseball and I like it. But to talk about that in a spiritual disciplines’ class is not appropriate. So intent gives focus.
The second factor that governs my word choice would be the context. Again, if we step into that same class on spiritual disciplines, the context is set. It is not a class on physics. That is a different context, although just as appropriate on a college campus. To some significant degree, the context will dictate some word choices. But it does not dictate all word choices.
Think about all the little words that all of us use all of the time. How many times have I already typed the word, “the?” If I were speaking this, I am told I could speak about two words per second! So if I do a great deal of talking, I can spit out a ton of words!
So there are words all over the place in my daily life. I use them copiously. And I listen to others spew forth bundles of words. Words and more words all over the place. We can make a major shift, however, if we switch from the number of words to the meaning or significance of words. Here the numbers plummet. It would be true to say that most of my words are not significant. Seldom does the word, “the,” carry that much significance. There is no comparison between the two words, ‘the” and “God.”
Speaking of God brings us to the place where we can appreciate a key point in Christian theology. Words have played a crucial role in the origin and development of the Christian faith. The context of this goes back to the opening words of Genesis. There we read that God “spoke’ creation into being. Read the text. Frequently, we read that God said, “Let there be…”
In Christian theology it gets even more specific. John’s Gospel tells us that at some point in history, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (1:14) That verse is the basis of my own personal theology. Essentially it says that God comes to be present in our very midst. Radically God chose to become human. God embodied the very truth and life God wants us to follow. Because the Word became flesh, we now have a model---Jesus---who shows us a way.
The beauty and simplicity of this is it only took one Word---the Word of God. The same Word that God spoke into creation now became part of creation. The intent of the Word become flesh was that we all be healed and enabled to live the life God ardently desires we all lead. Finally, it is about more than words. It is about life. We can talk about it. But the call is to live it!