Modern Verbicide

Yesterday, I recommended a new book of devotionals based on the writings of C. S. Lewis. Today, I’d like to give you a sample of what you will find inside. One of Lewis’s lesser-known works is Studies in Words, which is primarily academic. However, there are salient points from those pages that apply to everyone. Here’s one entry that deals with the meanings of words, and how we often dilute those meanings. It begins with a quote from Lewis, then commentary, and closes with a verse from the Scripture:

Verbicide, the murder of a word, happens in many ways. Inflation is one of the commonest.

Through language we can be used by God as his means of healing in the world, to bring hope, light, freedom, comfort, encouragement, joy. But we can also dull language’s capacity to be used for God’s purposes by stretching words beyond true meaning. Lewis had cause to critique this misapplication. What strength or truth is there in the description “God is love,” when the same descriptor is lazily parceled out to describe not only relationships but also our affinities for clothes, desserts, and sports? Awesome has long since been worn out from common overuse and underappreciation, so that it no longer approaches an accurate description of God.

In speech and in print, divergent meanings are crowded into one word without thought, resulting not in the communication of ideas or truth but merely in noisy air. Words are “puffed up” until they have no substance and have lost any power to heal or impart grace. With such flabby language, how can we hope to communicate God’s message to the world, a message that is truly awesome and incredible, literally unbelievable apart from his Spirit?

Perhaps this seems an esoteric point, something to be reserved for grammarians and English professors. But God clearly values meaning and precision in language. Think of God’s careful preservation of his Holy Word. Think of Jesus’ pronouncement that not a letter of the law would be eliminated or lost (see Matthew 5:18). Consider also his condemnation of elaborate vows: “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t'” (Matthew 5:37).

Above all, think of God’s painstaking sacrifice of living and suffering as the Word made flesh in order to communicate the gospel in a way that his human creation could understand. View your words as a gift and a tool, and ask God to help you sharpen them so that you will be better equipped to speak truth to those around you.

I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. Matthew 12:36