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Words are thoughts with their clothes on!

Article by Sheila Johnston © 11 November 2017 .
Posted in the Members' Blog ( ).

A couple moved into an old house and – so far, so original – began to notice that there seemed to be something unseen dashing about their living room every now and then. This ‘thing’ had a traceable trajectory around the room every time it appeared. For example, the coffee table would wobble, then the door shuddered, then a cushion depressed in the middle, then the curtains wafted sideways.

The intrepid couple decided that this was some ‘thing’ that it might be possible to catch. So one evening, when the rampage started, they followed the trail and managed to catch a little ‘thing’. It was totally invisible but they could get their hands round it and feel it, a little see-through ghost. Enter a packet of Play-Doh.

While one held the piece of air, the other stuck bits of Play-Doh over the surface of whatever it was. Hey presto, they finally revealed the shape of a little, struggling pig!

I was reminded of that story when I was watching a young child pouring over a very elementary reading book, brought home from school. The child was feeling her way along the letters, mouthing the sounds until the words made sense in her head. Expertise with language is such an elementary skill. Perhaps we do not realise how we impoverish our children by allowing them to ‘get by’ with poor vocabulary, undisciplined grammar and a poverty of expression.

Like that little rampaging pig, thoughts are invisible. Words are thoughts made visible. The written word is specially robust, echoing down the years long after speech has been lost to the air. Words are the clothes (the Play-Doh) that thought must put on to be useful, meaningful and shared. I believe that long ago oratory used to be taught in schools as a discrete subject, training in how to explain, describe, enthuse, lead and inspire. Will anyone who has heard it ever forget Martin Luther King’s “I have dream” speech? We have archive film of the occasion, but that speech is available to anyone in written form, included in many books.

If our children and young people can’t put their thoughts into words, specially the written word, they are hugely disadvantaged in reaching their own potential by extracting from their heads the thoughts that stir them, make them passionate and impact on the world they live in. We will be deprived of many latent writers of the future, and the literary canon will be diminished.

They are living with an invisible pig!

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