Your heart goes tick tock. Listen to it. Put your hand on it and feel it. Count the beats: one, two, three, four… When you have counted sixty beats a minute will have passed. After sixty minutes an hour will have passed. In one hour a plant grows a hundredth of an inch. In twelve hours the sun rises and sets. Twenty-four hours make one whole day and one whole night.
After this the clock is no good to us any more. We must look at the calendar: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday make one week. Four weeks make one month: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December. Now twelve months have passed, and your heart is still going tick tock. A whole year of seconds and minutes has passed. In a year we have spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Time never stops: the clock shows us the hours, calendars show us the days, and time goes on and on and eats up everything. It makes even iron fall to dust and it draws the lines on old people’s faces. After a hundred years, in a second, one man dies and another is born.
—Bruno Munari, “Design as Art”
It’s not very often I read something that knocks the wind right out of me. This part in Bruno Munari’s book hits me every time I read it. What makes that feeling even more worrying is the fact that this particular passage is intended for a children’s book. A few paragraphs intended to make a child think for nothing more than a few seconds has managed to knock the wind out of me, stop me in my tracks and force a mighty sigh from my lips – wow.
Words have this kind of power. Words have a way of communicating in a way that no other medium can. Sure, you can look at a painting in a gallery somewhere and form a completely different viewpoint from the person beside you, but facts are facts. There’s a tree. There’s a girl. There’s a river in the background. Objects stand out and announce themselves. Sometimes we miss them.
But when it comes to words, we take away completely different meanings. A tree is a tree is a tree. Solid fact. But words can be said one way and meant in completely the opposite way. How many times have you walked away from a conversation unsure than you managed to get your point across? Or that something you said was heard in a way you didn’t intend by another participant in the conversation? How many times have you yourself felt a certain way after hearing a word, before having that feeling swept away by confirmation of an alternative interpretation? Maybe I’m thinking too much into it.
Let’s imagine, for example, I had a terrible experience with a dog. Hearing the word “dog” would surely send a jolt of fear through me, potentially for the rest of my life. Not a particularly strong feeling (hopefully), but a feeling nonetheless. Someone else might associate the word “dog” with incredibly happy memories. A child might not yet have heard the word, or may not yet understand completely what it is we’re talking about.
“Love” is a perfect example of the power of words. A single word can fill us with joy, worry, hope, fear, warmth, and desire. A single word.
They say a picture says a thousand words; but a single word can paint a billion pictures.