• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Saturday, June 26, 2010


While my 3 older children were in high school Tad told me that, "Fair is the four letter 'F' word."

Tad, I think you are correct; it is a four letter 'F' word.

One of the first things most of us learn in life is that many things are decidedly unfair.

Many words have 4 letters.

If a word has 5 letters or 6 letters - or more - can it have greater power? Some people think so. Others think 1 and 2 letter words do. I have been thinking about words a lot lately - how they hurt or help us. Especially the words we say to ourselves and about ourselves in the privacy of our own mind.

There are those we say out loud and those we think. 
Each has phenomenal power.

The Bible tells us in John 1:1-5

   1 In the beginning was the Word, 
       and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
   2 The same was in the beginning with God.
   3 All things were made by him; 
       and without him was not any thing made that was made.
   4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
   5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Words can give light or bring darkness, healing or hurt, hope or despair.

I sincerely desire that my words heal me - and you, 
    help me - and you, lift me - and you. 
Lift us up to hope and the light,
    healing and help that comes only from 'The Word.'


Word. That is a four letter word.

Words – that has 5 letters – and now it means so much more than before.

There are words that should not be spoken. We all know them. If we utter (or mutter) certain words faces and eyes tell us more absolutely than if someone spoke that the voiced sound was not socially acceptable or particularly intelligent or appropriate. Many of these words have four letters.

If someone tells me, “… so and so said a four letter word” (or if I see that phrase in print) I have heard enough expletives to be able to guess (in most contexts) what was actually said – even if the word in fact has more or fewer letters.

(That raises an interesting question – would that be a striking literary device? Four letter words – that aren’t … hmmm … oh, and are also not an expletive).

During childhood several of my children played word games they made up – I swear I did not deliberately teach them to do that! I do find juxtaposing words an interesting mental exercise so, of course, I did not discourage or forbid such activities either. I admit I was often a willing participant and thoroughly enjoyed hearing them flex and stretch their vocabulary muscles.

4 letter words popped up occasionally. One child began talking by parroting everything heard. Just repeat a word, for example car, and make a rhyme by exchanging the initial consonant. It was a delightful experiment that earned oooo’s and aww’s from older siblings and adults as words like far and even star (and also many nonsense syllables) were constantly sing-songed around and through every communication. Eventually a leap to the final consonant was made (perhaps someone taught that) and – with the word changing from car to cat and then to flat - another linguistic world opened and expanded that 2 year-old’s speech horizons exponentially. Imagine our chagrin when some words were stumbled upon. It is amazingly difficult to keep a straight face and not encourage OR reinforce some words.

Although I hadn't heard it stated overtly before, I had to agree with the child that pointed out to me that ‘FAIR’ is a 4 letter word. Expletives are commonly used to grab attention and express strong emotion. He got mine.

I began to ponder 4 letter words – all of them – especially those that are routinely paired with familiar opposites like rich and poor, easy and hard, give and take, and of course love and hate.

Now there is a fun mental exercise. Try it. Can you add more pairs that, just by using them together, give power to your language or expression? cute and ugly, inch and mile, head and tail, open and shut, fast and slow, blue and pink, or deaf and hear. What about using paired synonyms like toil and work, dork and dope, or yowl and yelp?

Now consider: what happens if you change over to a 5 letter word? This amazed me. Adding or taking away one letter seemed to amplify the strength or weakness of a word or word pair. How about post and posit? Think about word and world, sale and stale, rest and wrest, or mime and mimic – the possibilities begin to just roll through my brain – ah and what about changing word to sword or sword to word? There is a story all in itself!

Consider the power and opposition of words like black and white, large and small, milk and meat, smile and frown, or hard and soft - remember easy? see how that comparative changes from hard and easy to hard and soft?

4 letters, fewer letters, more letters – words. So what?

4 letter words [expletives] have become so common place that some people seem unaware of the offensive inadequacies such speech habits perpetuate. Slang and expletives that do not really mean anything at all are added to or applied to every conversation (and even sentence or phrase) making them boring or embarrassing to listen to and tedious to decipher.

There are 4 letter words that are not profane or lewd that we avoid saying too. They make most people uncomfortable and disturb the even tenor and carefully shielded ways we interact culturally – perhaps because words like barf, lice, and anatomical references hold us to levels of responsible behavior mostly reserved for intimate interpersonal interactions. These taboo words, like manure, may have more or fewer than the specified 4 letters and (unless you are discussing gardening) they generally derail or stop polite conversation and interactions like a head on collision with a freight train.

Most of us instinctively avoid words about disease or death. Cancer has 6 letters. If a doctor says ‘cancer’ regarding you personally you feel like you heard a four letter word. Many other words in ‘doctor speak’ have many more than even 6 letters and feel like assault and battery.

We know words affect us - help or hurt or heal us. We know words have strength, even individually – both for good and for evil. Think of all the connotations and implications for the word ‘chocolate’ or ‘torture’ or ‘omniscient’. When combined, words magnify each other beyond their denotations; think of the word kiss – now combine it in use with slap, [as in perhaps 'slap a kiss on my cheek'] or compare love with lust, fail with pass, or work with play!

I have a few favorite contrasting 4 (and 5) letter words. I ponder at times the dark just before the dawn, the fear that may precede faith and the doubt that can only be resolved through hope. The meaning of these words seems amplified in paired associations. United into one sentence and joined to my experience and inspirations these particular words become almost deafening. They are heartening, calm and still. They speak the unspoken words, "Be still and know that I am God" and then none at all, in the mouth or mind.

Still, like silence that is so quiet I almost hold my breath.