Why do we need a new dictionary?

Photo by VD Photography on Unsplash

Your favorite word has a backstory, accomplices, and a birthplace. It came into the world through struggle, and was met with open arms—even if that word was melancholy. At some point, someone didn’t just feel sad; they felt a very specific kind of sadness, and the word gave them a telephone wire on which birds of a feather could find others who speak the same language. Much of language definition today is done on sites like Twitter.

For example, what does it mean to enable someone?

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It took me a while to learn what "stress" was. What did it mean to be stressed? I knew adults used the word a lot. Was it something only an adult could feel? Later in life, the word love became important. What is true love? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? If you fall out of love, were you ever in love? Is it like a plant that you have to water now and then? What is the relationship between love and desire?

The way you use a word might be meaningfully different from how others might use it. The same words are co-opted to mean different things to different people. We hold our own definitions close to our hearts. Ultimately, we want to close this gap. We want to be understood, and to understand. We should hold on to words like hand-rails to bring us toward a space beyond words.

And life never was about words. The most precious moments are felt as much as they are perceived. A flash of insight will come buzzing into our heads. When you come together with someone—truly—there are no words to describe it. If you're not on speaking terms, it hurts. But when you're really close, you don't have to…

The holiest and least holy words are often both kept in reserve. Different groups keep different words. While some will insist on using the one true name of God, others will insist God's true name is never used. Some say truth needs to be proclaimed from the highest places. Others say truth is like God.

Without pushing the boundaries of what existing words can describe, how will you know you’ve really reached the end of the map: the place beyond words? What if there is a word for where you are? What if someone else is there with you, and what if there’s only one word to describe it?

Originally published on Substack.

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