Words are the minted coinage of thought. Whether spoken or written, they are the medium of exchange of ideas. They range in power from the cheap little words of common chatter to the trumpet tones that can electrify a nation or change a culture. Words can sing with joy in victory, or shout defiance in defeat. They can mumble and cower in abject surrender, whimper or cry aloud in fear. They may rise like sweet incense in prayer, or burn with the acrid smoke of profane cursing. They may grow in stature, or they may shrivel away. They may become archaic and obsolete, and so cease to communicate thought to a living generation. Or they may simply lose their vitality and become empty casks, hollow shells, mocking the ideals for which they stand.
Disillusionment In Our Time
In one of his early novels, A Farewell to Arms, set during the first World War, Ernest Hemingway gave expression to the postwar disillusionment of his generation, a disillusionment that has been very largely duplicated in our time. He puts into the mouth of the main character, young Lieutenant Henry, something of his own bitterness and cynicism when he says:
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice … We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by bill-posters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory, and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity.… Abstract words ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more