The words of power

Following the 38th national conference of the English Scholars’ Association of Nigeria (ESAN) on the theme, “Language, Literature and Communication Studies for Peace, (In)security and Development in Nigeria”, the centrality of language with its building blocks, words, continues to resonate because words support life, through literature, communication, education and the rest. The power of words can therefore not be over-emphasised while the words of power equally have implications for peace, security and development.

The words of power are basically such lexemes and expressions that have the potential to evoke strong emotions, influence thought, direct actions and create significant impact. They have the capacity to coerce, inspire, motivate, persuade, uplift, manipulate, confuse, humiliate, malign and destroy their targets.

For instance, words like peace, trust, love, hope, unity, courage, freedom, belief, think, empathy, hope, cooperation, acceptance, now and justice have such power as to rally people to a cause. To say “Justice for Mohbad” or for any other person for that matter is capable of generating a movement that may threaten a government or wake authorities from their slumber because of the sheer power of justice, a value that appeals to everyone’s mind and creates a longing.

On the first four words of power above, there is a story of four candles burning in a room at night. Left alone, they started talking to one another, with the first candle saying, “I am Peace but at present, there are wars, catastrophe and robbery everywhere and it seems like the world does not want me anymore. Therefore, I can’t stay here any longer.” And saying that, the candle went out.

The second candle said, “I am Trust and today there are lies and deceit everywhere. I don’t think I am needed again. Therefore, I am also leaving.” So, the light was extinguished leaving only two candles on.

The third candle then sadly said, “I am Love, I have power to keep burning but today, everyone is so busy that no one has time for me. People are even forgetting to love their loved ones. I cannot bear all this, therefore, I am also going away from this world.” And out the candle went!

It was then that an innocent boy entered the room and seeing the extinguished candles, said, “Why didn’t you candles burn till the end? How could you leave like this?” That was when the fourth candle said, “Dear child, don’t be sad. I am Hope and while I am burning, you can light the other candles again.”

The boy’s eyes sparkled on hearing this and he took the candle of hope to relight the candles of peace, trust and love. This means that when everything looks dark and gloomy, we shouldn’t give up hope because it has so much power that it can give back everything lost. By keeping the hope candle lit, we can light all other candles. It is a word of power that can give back everything lost if applied to the fullest. It is the last light that remains when others are burnt out.

Meanwhile, the words of power are both light and fire. They are positive and negative as they serve their purposes. There is a sense in which words like achievement, success abundance, persistence, purpose, excellence, wisdom, respect, vitality, amazing, confident, marvelous, fantastic and others fill us with positive energy while words like pain, grave, scare, fear, damage, terrible, impatience, collapse, alarming and others in the category fill us with dread. As Mary Blige once said, “Negative words are powerful boomerangs so be careful what you say about people and yourself.”

At the utterance level, words of prayer, incantations, imprecations and magic are words of power that can alter or control reality and destiny. This fact about language controlling reality is underscored by David Crystal in his explanation of the purposes of language in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2007) because engaging in the use of words is equally performing actions. Words are not cheap; they are powerful enough to promote peace, engender development and escalate insecurity in the society.

While words are powerful, power is also displayed or signaled by the use of words. The other day in Iseyin, Oyo state, former President Olusegun Obasanjo deployed the words of power he still enjoys to command some traditional rulers. He ordered them to stand and sit and they obeyed pliantly. If anyone else tried it, the reaction might be different because words reveal power, be it hard or soft.

The words of power carry weight and people of influence use them to their own advantage – for peace or forv iolence.