Words, Words, Words.

The Fantastic Imagination | August 3, 2009

George MacDonald, in his essay The Fantastic Imagination, describes with amazing poetry the power of words, in a phantastic* paragraph in which the words of explanation do just what they are explained to do.

“‘But words are not music; words at least are meant and fitted to carry a precise meaning!’

“It is very seldom indeed that they carry the exact meaning of any user of them! And if they can be so used as to convey definite meaning, it does not follow that they ought never to carry anything else. Words are live things that may be variously employed to various ends. They can convey a scientific fact, or throw a shadow of her child’s dream on the heart of a mother. They are things to put together like the pieces of dissected map, or to arrange like the notes on a stave. Is the music in them to go for nothing? It can hardly help the definiteness of a meaning: is it therefore to be disregarded? They have length, and breadth, and outline: have they nothing to do with depth? Have they only to describe, never to impress? Has nothing any claim to their use but definite? The cause of a child’s tears may be altogether undefinable: has the mother therefore no antidote for his vague misery? That may be strong in colour which has no evident outline. A fairtytale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, whither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one, the cloudy rendezvous is a wild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another, a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their centre pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.”

*Phantastes is a faerie tale by MacDonald

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    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "Which is to be master? That is all."

    Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

    Hamlet: Words, words, words.

    Words are live things that may be variously employed to various ends. ~George MacDonald

    About Jessica and Proofwriting

    I am a freelance writer and editor. Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated by language: Its power, its nuance, its rules, and the exceptions to the rules. This blog is a place to share my fascination and to connect with other language lovers.

    If you are looking for an editor for your article, paper, grant proposal, novel manuscript or anything else, click here for more information about hiring me.

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