If one loves books, one must also have an affection for words. Without words there would be no books, after all. Actually, without words, there wouldn’t much of anything if you stop to think about it.
Yes, I love words too. I have several volumes on word origins, meanings, usage and so on. One of my favorites is a small volume I found years ago at – you guessed it – a thrift store. What can I say?
“Weigh the Word” was published in 1957 by Harper & Brothers. It’s an anthology of essays about words put together by Charles Jennings, Nancy King and Marjorie Stevenson of East Los Angeles Junior College. I suspect it was created to be a textbook for some classes they taught. Some excellent writers are represented here, such as Mortimer J. Adler, Clifton Fadiman, Ogden Nash and George Orwell, to mention a few.
Perhaps my favorite essay is the very first one in the book. It was excerpted from an article in the July,1948 issue of Science Illustrated and it’s titled “On the Origin of Speeches.” Written by the associate editor of the magazine, Morton Hunt, it examines some of the theories current at that time as to how language came into being. While some of these theories were pretty funny, something else stuck in my mind
At the beginning of his piece, Hunt points out something very important and, if one thinks about it, very obvious. He writes that “language has an even more basic value than that of communication: it is an essential to real thinking, without which there is little to be communicated.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Here’s something else to think about. We will probably never know with certainty how words and language began. As Hunt writes, “the history of language is not marked out by fossils and preserved objects. Nothing exists in the world to capture for us the sounds, the words, and the first verbal inventions of man’s early language.” Here’s one mystery that science probably won’t be able to solve.
A quote comes to mind, however. Even if you’re not religious, it still rings true:
“In the beginning was the Word . . . all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1,3
Think about that.