Words: Frankenstein and His Monster

Here’s an interesting passage from Lytton Strachey I ran across this morning. He is writing of words, language:

Those small articulated sounds, that seem so simple and so definite, turn out, the more one examines them, to be the receptacles of subtle mystery and the dispensers of unanticipated power. Each one of them, as we look, shoots up into

“A palm with winged imagination in it
And roots that stretch even beneath the grave.”

It is really a case of Frankenstein and his monster. These things that we have made are as alive as we are, and we have become their slaves. Words are like coins (a dozen metaphors show it), and in nothing more so than in this–that the verbal currency we have so ingeniously contrived has outrun our calculations, and become an enigma and a matter for endless controversy. We say something; but we can never be quite certain what we have said. In a single written sentence a hundred elusive meanings palpitate.

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