A Legacy of Words

Early in the twentieth century, Ivar Kreuger, a match manufacturer, managed to corner the match market. Through various deals, he ended up with the exclusive rights to sell matches in many countries, including most of Europe, but this monopoly was not enough for him. Back then, it was a common practice for two or three people to light their cigarettes from the same match. Ivar realized that if he could somehow keep that third person from using the match, he could greatly increase his sales, so he had his advertising department start the rumor that it was unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match. Tales were told of dreadful things happening to the third person who used a match, like the bride who had been left at the altar and the soldier who was killed after each had lit a cigarette from a match that two others had already used. Even today, though most people use lighters, the superstition that it’s unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match persists.

Kreugar’s story shows the power of words, but how many of us use them wisely? We toss out words as if they were as ubiquitous as dandelion fluff and as valueless, yet words have the ability to affect the speaker just as much as they affect the listener. For example, saying “I love you,” not only makes the recipient feel good, it makes the speaker feel good, and it intensifies the bond between the two people. Screaming, “I hate you” effectively disconnects us from ourselves as well as the other person.

The realization that the words can change us as writers as well as others is making me think about my responsibility as writer. If words are so powerful that they can change readers and writers both, then they deserve my best. I don’t think I’ve achieved my best. At least, I hope I haven’t. Once you have achieved your best, you have no place to go but down, and in many respects, I am still at the beginning of my journey as a writer. Supposedly, a writer doesn’t reach maturity until after s/he has written a million words, and I am still far short of that, even including blog words. (Because, though I tend to forget, blogging is writing, too.)

Still, no matter how much better I get at writing, I don’t think I will ever achieve the success with my words that Ivar Kreuger did, and that’s okay. The legacy of his words is a lie. I would prefer the legacy of my words to be a truth.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

10 Responses to “A Legacy of Words”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    In Japan there’s a concept called “kotodama”, which is loosely translated as the power of words. Kotodama basically means that every word has an energy or force to it, and that it can change the environment around you, which is why saying “I love you” or “I hate you” can cause people’s moods and days to change drastically. There are even a few comic book series that were very popular during their print runs, and they revolved or delved into this concept.
    And believe it or not, kotodama may have scientific parallels: science has proven that a thought carries energy and weight, so words do in fact have energy and weight as well, If that’s the case, then it is more than likely that words have the power to affect reality.
    But then again, does that surprise you? I mean, look at the election: “47 percent” caused a tidal wave, as well as a sub-par performance at that first debate.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Very interesting. Does the energy or force of the word depend on the meaning of the word or just the sound the sound of it? For example, does a completely nonsensical string of sounds or a made up word have power, too, such as swample — a cross between swamped and trampled. (Haven’t we all felt that way at times when work builds up? Both swamped and trampled by it?)

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        all i’ve seen are fictional depictions in translated comic books. sometimes it’s all about intent, but other times just saying “i wish you would go away” when you’re mad is enough to make someone disappear.
        if you want to know more, i recommend reading “Alice 19th” byYuu Watase, or “Her Majesty’s Dog” by Mick Takeuchi. Both deal with this concept, and they’re very compelling reads besides.
        Of course, they’re comic books, so if that’s not your shtick, I totally get it.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          So that’s why people wrap words and such and leave them in temples in Japan? For the power the words have?

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            I’m not sure i follow.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            It’s just something I’ve seen in movies — people writing words, and folding them or wrapping them and leaving them as temple offerings in Japan. If words are powerful, then they are suitable temple offerings.

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            I know of prayer tablets, where people write a prayer on a tablet and put it in a special place in the temple or shrine so that the god can grant it. I guess kotodama works for prayer: if your intent is strong, the idea is that the god will help you with your stated wish.
            But like I said, I’m a Westerner who only heard of the idea through comic books from Japan. Check Wikipedia or read the comics themselves for a better understanding.

  2. Marty Tousley Says:

    Ah, yes, Pat. The power of words, and the challenge to use them wisely. One of my very favorite quotations is framed and sits upon my desk:
    “But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.” ~ Lord Byron ♥

  3. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I have a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The name is a bit deceptive. It really should be called The Book of the Successful Afterlife. It lays out all the traps set out to stop the spirit from successfully crossing over and how to deal with them. Thus the Ancient Egyptians believed in the power of words for if the right onces are not understood and managed well you might end up wandering in darkness forever or worse.

    Sometimes I think certain words can appear too often in a novel. The really powerful combinations such as ‘I love you’ I would only consider using in rare circumstance for maximum impact on the reader. I take this cue from, of all things, the movie Ghost.


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