The Inadequacies of Language

A rather unsettling but communicative image.“Language exists to communicate whatever it can communicate. Some things it communicates so badly that we never attempt to communicate them by words if any other medium is available.” (C.S. Lewis Studies In Words).

Human beings are extremely verbal creatures. It’s no accident that even most sign language used by the deaf community is based on gestures being the equivalent of given words. I suspect this lexical dimension of our nature has something to do with our creation “in the image of God.”

After all, God obviously loves words. His only begotten Son is the very “Word” (Logos) of God, through whom everything that exists was spoken into being.

Yes, words are important to humanity, whether or not we acknowledge a Divine source for that fact. Well chosen words communicate effectively. And, although rhetoric is no longer a formal component of most curricula, one evidence of a solid education is fluency in communication.

Those of us who dabble in writing value the proverbial “well turned phrase” more than most. At the same time we agree with the wisdom of C.S. Lewis quoted above. For some things, words are an impoverished means of communication.

Take for example intense grief. While the unknowing stumble about trying to find the “right words,” we who are older have learned a hug and shared tears are far more effective agents of healing.

Similarly, joy can be ill-expressed via words on occasions when “words are not enough.” Observing the awe shimmering in the eye of a parent cradling their newborn, communicates volumes more than any treatise on “happiness” could.

Lewis, a timeless master of the English language, reminds us all that even the precious gift of language . . . possesses its limits.

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