A couple of examples come to mind. The expression “that’s unacceptable,” seems to carry authority beyond personal opinion. Also the word “discriminate” has lost its discriminatory ability because advocacy groups for human rights commandeered it to connote their agenda. I’m sure you can think of others.
Obviously, this has implications for both fiction and non-fiction writers. Authentic writing depends not only use of the right word and ruthless deletion of unnecessary words, but also on word order. Strunk and White admirably demonstrate this by rearranging Thomas Paine’s sentence: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Other arrangements they suggest don’t carry the same emotional impact, but the reason is hard to define:
Times like these try men’s’ souls.
How trying it is to live in these times.
These are trying times for men’s souls
Soulwise, these are trying times.
This is where craftsmanship and art combine in the classics that we admire, but which deflate our own confidence. We doubt we will ever reach such sublime heights, yet we are continually constrained to try. Such is the nature of writing. Like life, perfection is seductive; its empty promise will never stop us trying, but always leaves us lamenting our poverty.
But we are fortunate to write in English. English and the other Germanic languages are descendants of Greek (recall the expression: “The Greeks had a word for it”?). So English has a wealth of words few other languages on earth can boast, providing every nuance necessary for effective, accurate writing. Would my passion for writing have been as dynamic without the English language? Possibly not.
However, the biblical languages have certainly enhanced it. A common response to even an elementary knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, is that it opens up the Scriptures afresh. In the Old Testament, for instance, the Hebrew faith formed part of the everyday Hebrew language. Thus, it was not possible to differentiate physical life from the spiritual. The connotations of God’s love and faithfulness were in every expression of love and faithfulness between humans.
In the New Testament, the Greek language had every word necessary to transmit the Christian faith. What is even more remarkable, the Holy Spirit used the “Dick and Jane” Greek of John’s Gospel to communicate sublime truths of the faith as effectively as the classic Greek used by the author of Hebrews. Furthermore, Paul took words from the Greek language and infused them with Christian truth providing “crossover” meanings to aid evangelism in his day.
If I have understood the depth of God’s love and actions for me in procuring salvation, it has been the meaning built in to various words critical to the Christian faith. The Australian theologian, Leon Morris, in his book, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, researched the words: redemption, covenant, blood, propitiation, reconciliation and justification from the original languages. His work gave me a depth of understanding that drew me into a clearer and deeper permanency of my relationship to Jesus Christ, and greater assurance of my eternal security in God’s provision.
It is no accident that God has communicated to us by the written word. Not only does it provide a permanent record of God’s care for His people, it does so in a way that is relevant to every generation. His gift of writing for me and those He called into this ministry is simply an extension of His desire to communicate His love beyond ourselves.