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“The Word Shaker”

February 10, 2014

Often when I’m at work (I’m a lawyer) sending stupidly formal emails I pause for a second and laugh about the ridiculous things I am saying.  “Please find attached hereto”, “we would be grateful if you could revert on the following as soon as practicable”… it is all so formal, antiquated and not human.

The law is a great career for me though because I love words.  I think of problems as padlocks with the right combination of words granting you access to the solution.  Playing with words, working out what people want to happen and then making it so by thinking up the mechanics and rearranging them in the perfect order gives me a lot of satisfaction.  When you get something right you immediately know that it’s correct and that there is no combination of words out there that does the job better.

Doing this from day to day makes me think about the limitless possibilities that various combinations of words can lead to.  I find it amazing to think that any time you talk to someone there is an endless array of outcomes.  I could be talking to my best friend and could randomly insult him and his family and end up ruining a friendship forever.  I could be speaking to a random stranger but could by coincidence choose the right order of words to endear myself to that person.  I could be speaking to a room full of people and might stumble upon a phrase that inspires someone to do something really good, or really bad.  People sometimes say that they would never do something.  I don’t think I would ever go sky-diving but I know that somewhere out there, floating around, there is a combination of words that would make me do it.  “I’ll give you a million pounds if you go sky-diving” is one such combination. 

Any time you speak to any person there is a branch of infinite flow charts stemming from every sentence.  How many times have you regretted saying something, where the repercussions that stem from something you said have been really bad?  The probabilities of each outcome vary massively.  For example, the chances of me speaking to a homeless person and ending up with him giving me a gold bar are minute, but my philosophy is that there is probably a combination of words out there that could make it happen.  Just think about movies you watch where the bad guy manipulates a person into doing something they never thought they would or could do, or alternatively, where people are inspired to do fantastic things through feats of unimaginable bravery and courage. 

The reason why I’m thinking about all this at the minute is that I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak last night and it had a similar motif – it was probably the main element of the book that I connected with and the title of this post is a quotation from it.   Though I have no conclusion and no real thing of value to take away from this discussion I like to think about it.  It is both encouraging, and sometimes scary, to think that almost anything that anyone says could be the key to a particular lock and that it might set off a chain of events that seem unrelated to the initial spark.  

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