Language is just no damn good.

“As soon as we start putting our thoughts into words and sentences everything gets distorted, language is just no damn good – I use it because I have to, but I don’t put any trust in it. We never understand each other.” Marcel Duchamp


I am a reluctant speaker. I understood at a young age that words are a poor reduction of the thought that plays within our mind. The distressingly slow transfer of information when encountered in linear text must have been part of the insight into coining the old saw, “A picture is worth a thousand words” (pun intended!).

I would imagine the initial development of writing must have appeared as a sort of miraculous ability, liberating the mind to engage with others in complex and detailed fashion over a great span of time. The evanescence of speech being a limiting factor in the diffusion of culture.

We now have something of the opposite situation. We are swimming in a sea of words; a sea that grows dramatically higher each day. And, although we are not responsible for keeping up with the totality of communication produced each day we also cannot be untouched by the seepage of words, concepts and idioms that enter into our daily work and leisure life.

Now let me switch metaphors. Let us think of words as objects. Words being composed of smaller objects – characters and character composed of finer objects; objects of ink and paper perhaps. Further, we can go up the chain of objects. Words combine to compose sentences, sentences underly paragraphs and so on from books to libraries.

Of course much discussion, even dialogue occurs spurred by the insights gleaned from reading what has been written. Important and positive action can happen through this process. But words can be heavy objects to carry around, to work with and build intellectual edifices.

In a way similar to how mere speech was a limiting factor in communication mere words we speak in conversation disappear and with them perhaps the insight that started the formation of the words. Of course one may disagree with this premise with the note that people engaged in conversation have the ability to remember what has been said and to respond appropriately. However, I would suggest that anyone attending a meeting or simply a conversation has heard a significant point brought up only to be forgotten the next moment when someone cracks wise and the room breaks up in laughter. It is very rare that people can hold focus long enough to concentrate on anyone matter. Even in the event of a “brainstorming session” where ideas are committed to writing we still have no formal, effective way of capturing the crucial interplay between these ideas.


– more in the future!



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