Language, whether it be in spoken or written form, is indeed a gift. That was a message I tried to impart to the scores of young people who passed through my classroom doors from my first year in 1973 through my final year in education in 2005.
When it comes to the spoken word, opinions vary as to how many the average person speaks on any given day, but the website wikihow.com has compiled some findings. While lower estimates say people speak around 6,000 words a day, other studies place the number for some of the more loquacious as high as 16,000. And, despite what the stereotype is that’s often promulgated, there really has been no meaningful discoveries that women speak more often than men. As for rate, studies done have also suggested that the average person speaks somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 words per minute when in social settings.
As for me, well, if you’ve known me for long enough, you’re aware that I’m on the garrulous side. And, pairing my garrulousness with a high degree of gregariousness, I tend to gravitate to those who, like me, also have a great deal to say as well. While she’ll claim that I’m far chattier, my Lady Jane certainly can string together verbiage with pretty much anybody. That’s fine by me because the more she talks, the greater the likelihood that she’ll say something that will trigger a laugh, something, the older I get, the more I really need.
One story she’s fond of telling that verifies her belief that being talkative is indeed good involves a trip to the dentist years ago to get a root canal. With the dentist taking some pretty deep dives into her mouth, Jane was following closely the conversation between dentist and hygienist. Now, while some of the conversation was related to the procedure she was undergoing, a part of the conversation was also social.
During the social confabulation, Jane said she had an urge to join the chat, and, when she wished to make an addition, her finger would go up. When the dentist saw this, she would temporarily cease her work, and Jane, despite some enunciation difficulties caused by the Novocaine, would deliver her two or three cents.
Among all those words both spoken and written each day by people, there are indeed some that tend to acquire permanence because of their veracity, their eloquence, or some combination of the two. They are universally acknowledged and remembered so well that most of us can actually finish the quote of a young idealistic president on a long-ago inauguration day that began with “Ask not what your country can do for you …” or the words delivered by a young astronaut raised just a few miles south of Lima when his lunar boot hit the surface, that began with “That’s one small step for (a) man …”
As for my favorite quotes, it’s probably no great surprise that many come from American writers given the years that I taught America’s literature. To this day, I still remember the last several lines from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” words that speak to me about what connects all of humanity no matter the time period its people have occupied.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean/
But I shall be good health to you nonetheless/
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged/
Missing me one place, search another/
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Another favorite quote, one far more concise than those final two stanzas of “Song of Myself,” comes from the great Mark Twain, and it speaks to me more emphatically with each passing day with which the Almighty has blessed me as I move through my 70s.
Twain tells all of us who’ve been here for quite a while and tend to complain about our catalogue of age-related infirmities, “Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.”
Yes indeed, among all those words put forth from time immemorial, both the spoken and the written, there are some that have become far more special, either to so very many or, in the case of my special words from Whitman, the great poetic voice of democracy, words that speak to me more deeply than perhaps to others. And, if you’ve yet to find your special words, keep searching. They indeed may have stopped somewhere, just waiting for you.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].