Language seems to be in a constant state of decline lately. It’s more about communicating at the most basic level instead of actually conveying meaning with a purpose. Of course, texting often becomes communication in its rawest form. C U l8r kind of says it all, or not much actually.
Since much of communication is driven by emotion, our words often spew forth what we may be feeling, but many times they don’t really give the listener or reader much to go on. For instance, we are often content with a derogatory comment like, “That guy is such a jerk.” Or, “He is a complete waste of space.” Now those do convey a definite opinion or sentiment, but they don’t really convey the fullness of how we view that waste of space jerk.
Compare this description by Gustave Flaubert from his classic work, Madame Bovary. This is a description of Charles Bovary, the Madame’s husband: “Charles’s conversation was as flat as a sidewalk, and it was traversed by a steady stream of the most commonplace ideas, all wearing the usual garb and appealing to neither the emotions, the sense of humor nor the imagination.” Doesn’t that impact you much more forcefully than, “He is so lame!”? Either way, “Note to self: Don’t invite this guy to the next dinner party.”
Word pictures are definitely on the decline, but the ability to create an image in the mind of another is still one of the primary keys to great communication. From Homer to Jesus to Tolstoy to James Agee, the ability to paint a picture with words has always been one of the most effective ways of instilling thoughts, principles, and ideas in the heart or mind of someone else. This is one of the primary ways we help our readers or listeners “see” what we’re trying to say.
Make the effort and read the greats. You’ll see word pictures everywhere. There is no better way to learn effective communication than to be communicated to by the best.