Language is Power.

January 11, 2011

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. -Mark Twain

You have heard it said, “Knowledge is power,” but this is only true if you have the ability to unpack your knowledge and put it to action. Knowledge is power, but we need language to effectively communicate what we know and how we know it. Language is power because language is communication. Not having a good control of the language will often discredit a person who is otherwise very intelligent. An effective communicator is able to get what he/she wants through the control of the language. Language is how we express our ideas. Language is how we are able to reconcile a disagreement through discussion. We can use language to manipulate others, or use it to bring enlightenment. We use language to sell ourselves, our products, and our ideas. The greater command we have of language, the greater we will be at self-expression. Additionally, with a greater command of language we will be able to understand others and help others to understand ourselves.

Imagine yourself dropped into a country with a completely unfamiliar culture and a completely unknown language to you. Imagine the helpless state you would be in. You might be able to use hand signals or charades, but think of how limited that would be. Not only would the population seem strange to you, but you would be strange to them as well. Would they trust you? How could you communicate to them you were friendly? What if you did something that was offensive in their culture? You’d have no way of knowing unless you could understand their language. This is an extreme example, but it reveals how vital the ability to express yourself clearly is in regards to becoming successful in all areas: politics, careers, and relationships. In order to have trust with anyone, we must learn to “speak their language.” Before I finished college, I spent many years working at a university as a custodian. The facilities department constantly changed its policies, and our boss, who was college educated, would come and tell us about the new expectations, the reasons for the changes, etc. After her speech I would often have half the crew come to me and ask me what she meant, because she often spoke at a level that was over their education. With my background, I was able to understand my boss, and communicate what she said to my coworkers at their level of understanding.

 A larger vocabulary gives us more creative ways to express ourselves. It also enables us to be more clear and precise in what we mean. However, a good command of the language is also knowing when to use the vocabulary we have. When I finally made it to college,  I was exposed to a lot of new words, a lot of big words that I had to use in my papers if I wanted to make the grade, and those words eventually seeped into my everyday speech. That was good when I was in class or when I was in a discussion about some deep issue or world issue with a professor or college peer, but I found that when I talked to some friends who had not the desire or financial means for college, I came across as arrogant. If the purpose of communication is to get our neighbors to understand our point of view or to come to a new understanding about something we feel is important then we need to be careful not to win an argument with big words, but to speak in a way which they can understand what is said so they will be able to make their own judgment about the facts or truth you believe you are presenting. The power of language is not just in knowing words and knowing how to use words effectively, but also being able to speak and communicate at various levels, and knowing when it is needed to do so.

Peter L Richardson
(adapted from a 10/22/03 linguistics exam)


What’s in a word? What’s in a rhyme?
Is it the silent tick-tick of time?
Are they definition, description or meaning?
Are they truth, fact or seeming?
A word is empty without sight.
The sun is darkness without light.

Peter L Richardson
spring 1997


5 Responses to “Language is Power.”

  1. onegirl4god Says:

    Hi Pete,
    It’s true what you say about the power of words (The pen is mightier than the sword, eh?). However, in todays electronic age it seems everyone has something to say and it is very difficult to find words worth reading. I find myself being a reluctant writer for many different reasons. But I struggle on try not to focus on my own words getting lost in the ceaseless babble.


  2. peterrock12 Says:

    Hey Steph, I agree. This essay was more about learning how to communicate in a way others will listen, but before we do that we need to make sure we have something of substance to say. Unfortunately, with the instant gratification of the internet, most of us just let the babble spill out without thought or regard for what’s right and what’s true.


  3. lincolnteachingteam Says:

    Hi Peter,
    I would like permission to use the image ‘Language has Power’ in one of our online courses. Appropriate acknowledgement will given.

    Many thanks,
    Dr. Maurice Ward
    Education Designer
    Library Teaching and Research
    Poplars 08
    PO Box 84
    Lincoln University
    Lincoln 7647
    New Zealand
    p +64 3 423-0362
    e | w
    Lincoln University, Te Whare Wanaka o Aoraki
    New Zealand’s specialist land-based university

    • peterrock12 Says:

      I gotta come clean… I just google imaged the quote and found these, and now I can’t find the original sources for you to get the permission! Sorry!!

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