The Power of Word Choices

The Power of Word Choices
As a professor of English, I know firsthand the power of words in the English language, and what can happen when we make the wrong choice. At times it can be quite comical, and others just sad (don’t get me started!). However, there are times where multiple words could work in a sentence grammatically speaking but can differ vastly in meaning. These meanings can impact people in ways we never consciously think about.

For example, someone warned me against the dangers of collaborative novel writing the other day; however, the thing that stuck with me in that moment we spoke was not the subject content but the word choices made. He said, “Do me a favor, when you become a published writer…” A simple partial statement, but one word in the exchange is loaded. He selected “when,” not “if.” The phrase I hear from people most often (and sometimes use myself) is “If you get published…” There’s nothing wrong with that grammatically; in fact, it is showing a possibility, a chance I could become published. But he said, “when.” That word choice holds so much more power. It asserts that it is not only a possibility but a definitive one that it is going to happen one day in the future. It is a word that evokes faith in another human being, an assertion that the speaker is 100% behind you supporting you.

That night I wrote fifteen pages and sent a completed manuscript out to one of my test group readers. This one word gave me drive, renewed my faith in myself, and got me motivated to make it happen. I’m sure the person who said it had no idea that one word would make such an impact on someone. I’m sure he didn’t think about it before he spoke, but that is the best part of it. He unconsciously did so because his faith in my writing, a faith I lose in myself time to time.
This use of one word, and the idea that one word can make a world of difference is so significant in an industry, or any one for that matter, that has such subjectivity and criticism. People are mentally beaten down daily by strangers, friends, family, and their worst critic—themselves. There needs to be times we pick them up when they are down or make their day better by simply doing something like choosing a word with a positive connotation. It is such a simple thing to do that costs us nothing.

Honestly, we all should take more care in selecting the words we say instead of speaking before we have really thought them through. Speaking for us is not as carefully crafted as writing. If we took the upmost care with our verbal transactions as we do with our crafted, revised, and edited written ones, I think a lot of things would change for the better. We could make people’s lives better. We can change someone’s life by simply saying “when.”

What is a word choice that has affected you? please comment!