words

climbingparnassusFrom Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin by Tracy Lee Simmons:

‘The right word is a sure sign of good thinking,’ Isocrates once said. Education in any literate society must begin with training in language. Words signify acts and ideas. They serve as common currency for the literate and the illiterate alike, because even the unlettered utter sounds so as to communicate. Words distinguish; they supply an index to the quality and capacity of their users’ intellects. They provide the gold standard for the thoughtful mind. Ideas are shadowy and inert without them. But with words to clothe them, ideas take on form. They gain substance. They become measurable, weighable. Words can make those ideas a shared possession. Private wisdom may inform one’s own life supremely, but that wisdom may never inform or inspire others until one can, in some grand or modest way, breathe life into those private perceptions with the power of words. The mastery of language, according to Aristotle, both fosters practical skills and enhances the enjoyment of leisured hours; it is eminently useful for the workaday life while cultivating the mind and soul. Language, wrote Milton, serves mankind as ‘the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known’ — and language is a precision instrument, like a Swiss watch.

 

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