Words

3.2.2

Importance of Words

          As we begin to understand the creation of language and how objects receive meaning, we need to look at words themselves and why they are important to speakers. Words give meaning to our thoughts, they are the vehicles by which we express our inner thoughts, desires, wants, and needs. As a speaker, words are the tools of our craft. Ancient societies began communicating through oral traditions; words have been part of message transference throughout time. Words are truly at the essence of our communication.

Where to Find Words

          There are many places to find new words. It used to be difficult to find new words—by looking through pages of physical hard copy dictionaries. But today, it is faster and easier than ever! There are multiple avenues to find words and their meanings. Here are a few online resources we recommend to help you learn new words, what they mean, and how to pronounce and use the word:

          The more words a speaker knows and understands the meaning of, the stronger the speaker they will become. Knowing a plethora of words opens new worlds to you and having a larger lexicon allows you to understand more connotations of words you can use to enhance your messages. Learn a new word each day: its definition, its use in sentences, and its context. You will be amazed at how much wider your knowledge base grows. AND it can be fun!

Understanding Words

Connotative words have a meaning that suggests or implies something else, they are subjective.

Denotative words have a meaning that is precise and literal with no room for interpretation.

          Most words have several meanings which is one of the reasons why attaining a true understanding of messages may be difficult. If the receiver and the source have two varied meanings for one word, it can lead to discord or a break in understanding between them—the message may not come across as desired.

          Words have two different types of meanings: connotative and denotative. Connotative means what the word suggests or implies, they can elicit an emotional response, a feeling, in the receiver and are subjective. These words may be open to more than one interpretation.

Denotative has a meaning that is the dictionary definition. It is precise and literal.

EXERCISE

Think of three words. Look up these words in an online or print dictionary. Write down both their connotative and denotative definitions. Next use a different dictionary to record the definitions. Are the two definitions different? Does your frame of reference or interpretation of the definitions make you feel as though one definition is more correct than the other?

          Words have varying levels of meaning from concrete to abstract. Abstract words are more difficult to interpret, to have your meaning come across in the context you desired, it is helpful to use more concrete words—more denotative meanings of words. This does not allow the receiver to put their own meaning to your words as much. Concrete, specific words help your message to be clearer.

 

          One of the ways to help you recognize levels of words is to use the “Ladder of Abstraction” created by S.I. Hayakawa in his 1939 book Language in Thought and Action. It describes the movement of the meaning of a word from abstract to concrete or from concrete to abstract as needed.

An example of the "Ladder of Abstraction."

Review Questions

1) What is the difference between abstract words and concrete words? How does the Ladder of Abstraction help us develop more concrete words?

2) Which type of words have precise meaning and leaves no room for interpretation?