The importance of words

22 Jan

I was just watching Obama’s inauguration speech and thought about how much time a great part of the team involved in his government must have spent thinking and re thinking the right words to say for the act.

At a sentence-by-sentence level, it was filled with a device to which Obama is practically addicted: syntheton. That is, never say one thing when you can inflate the sentence with two: “effort and determination”, “passion and dedication”, “security and dignity”, “hazards and misfortune”, “initiative and enterprise”, “fascism or communism”, “muskets and militia” and so, unceasingly, on.

At the larger level of organisation we were seeing some other old favourites – in particular anaphora, where a phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive sentences. This speech was an anaphoric relay race: “Together, we” gave way to “We, the people”, which temporarily ceded the track to “Our journey is not complete until”, before “You and I, as citizens” staggered to the tape with the baton.

Here is what he started his speech with:

“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Let’s take a look, only in the first paragraph he says such important words as: “Constitution” “Democracy” “The color of our skin” “Faith” “Origins” “Americans”. Just with these words he has already summed up the whole American history and the principles they strongly believe in.

But my favorite it’s in the second paragraph, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” what is this? Yes, the idea of the so-called American dream.

How can you and move people with only a sentence? With words, they can be used for good or for evil. They have that power. They reflect who we are or who we are not. They define our interactions and relationships with others, how we are seen and how we want people to see us.

So indeed, we don’t have a full government to double check every word that comes out of our mouth, but we have to be careful, every word conveys something we might or might not be aware of. They leave, but the emotion stays…




Barack Obama 2013 inauguration speech:




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