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The Beginning

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Danny Danny's been teaching English at EC for 10 years.

There is power in words.

Twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

Make them dance with each other – and it is a dance – and they form units of meaning.

They form words.

Mix those words up, put them in a certain order, juggle them and shuffle them around, and depending on how well you’ve shuffled and how dexterously you’ve juggled, you can make people laugh or cry. You can bring ideas to life, give voice to thoughts and pin down emotions. You can start new religions, or bring down governments. You can express love. You can inspire, motivate, encourage. You can change someone’s life. You can make a difference.

There is power in words.

‘Asylum’, as in ‘lunatic’ rather than ‘refugee’, is, as far as I’m concerned, the scariest word in the English language. It’s a glaring, blinding white, and slightly off-kilter, like a view from a telescope being held the wrong way round by someone with shaking hands. A room with a locked door, where things appear normal until you look more closely and then wish that you hadn’t. Where terror doesn’t lurk in the shadows, because there are no shadows in which to lurk. In ‘asylum’, the terror is in your face, and any laughter that may be heard is slightly hysterical, and goes on forever…

All this from a single word – a mere six letters arranged into a mental picture – and a healthy imagination. And possibly one too many Hollywood horror films.

By far the most useful word in the English language is ‘statistically’. We live in a world of numbers. They are everywhere – on clocks and calendars, on paychecks and prices, in the length and breadth and height and weight of everything – and we believe numbers because numbers never lie. Start a sentence with ‘statistically’, throw in a random percentage, and nine out of ten of your listeners will believe any old rubbish you come up with. The remaining listener will frown suspiciously and say nothing, resolving to look it up for himself the minute he gets home. And then he’ll forget all about it, because, statistically, 99.9% of these kinds of people do.

The funniest word in English is the wonderfully onomatopoeic ‘plop’, especially when used as a noun and accompanied by the adjective ‘dismal’. A dismal plop, as made by some unlucky soul slipping and landing in a pool of mud. Or someone’s false teeth falling into their soup and sinking slowly out of sight. Yes, I do have a childish sense of humour. And no, I make no apologies.

There are hundreds more – the most unpromising, depressing and spiritless word in English is ‘gloomy’. Try saying it out loud with a cheerful smile and you won’t be able to, unless you completely mispronounce it. The most mouth-watering collocation is ‘sizzling bacon’ and the most annoying word is ‘whatever’, especially when spoken in an American accent with a pause between the ‘what’ and the ‘ever’, and accompanied by the raised palm of disdain. ‘Lullaby’ is a soothing, calm and gentle word which makes you feel that everything is going to be alright, and it’s also my nickname for my daughter, because I want to make her feel that everything is going to be alright. And my favourite word at the moment is ‘Smurf’ (which is not, technically, a real word, but I like it because it sounds good and makes me happy, and reminds me of someone who is good and makes me happy. So there you go.) And so on and so forth…

There is one word, however, which I consider to be the most powerful of all. It’s not a big word, consisting as it does of three letters, but it is, simultaneously, a huge word, and it can bring a torrent of different emotions bursting out of different people, and always for different reasons.

The word is ‘END’, as in the point where something ceases to exist.

Think about it. Think about the power of words…

Think of a tough task you had to struggle through. Picture it in your mind, and how you had to force yourself to keep going, to keep pushing, to get the job done. Think of the stress, and the late nights and the early mornings. Think of how you felt. And now think… END.

That feeling you’ve got is called relief. And pride.

Think of summer holidays or winter vacations. Perhaps you went abroad. With good friends, or better relatives. Picture them. Remember the things you said, and did. Think of how you laughed until your head ached and your stomach couldn’t take it anymore. Those one hundred and one anecdotes that you brought back with you. The beach, the sun, the snow, the pines. The smell of sun-cream and ice-cream and fireplaces and brandy. And now think… END.

That’s called nostalgia. If you’re doing this right – if I’m doing this right - there’s possibly a small, faraway smile on your face.

Think of someone you loved, or perhaps still do, who is no longer around. Think of their face, their voice, their smile, and the time you had together. Lose yourself in memories for a moment. And now think… END.

Sorrow? Regret?

And now we come to another END. Christmas is just around the corner, and then, before we know it, 2010 will be over and done with. Did you have a good year? A bad one? Either way… END. It’s a small word, but it’s a huge word.

There is power in words.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in my usual roundabout, rambling way, is that if words have so much power behind them, we need to choose them carefully. We can’t, and shouldn’t, just throw them around as if they mean nothing. Because they do. Meaning is what they’re all about, and the meaning changes according to the person they’re aimed at, or the person receiving them. ‘Asylum’ may not scare you, and you may have the intelligence to look beyond the word ‘statistically’ in order to see the reality it’s trying to hide. You may hate the word ‘plop’, remain unaffected by ‘gloomy’ and never have tasted, or smelt ‘sizzling bacon’. ‘Lullabye’ may mean nothing to you, but it means everything to me. The point is, there are thousands of words out there, and some of them are just for you. Use them wisely.

And as for END… well, we’re nearly there…

Every END is followed by a new BEGINNING. Now there’s a long word. And it’s a good one. But you can’t have one without the other.

All I have left to say is have yourselves a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ll see you in January, and we’ll start all over again…


By Danny, EC Malta English School