home | what's new | other sitescontact | about



Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Reading & Language



"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life." W. Somerset Maugham



Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Teach Your Baby to Read





Marshall McLuhan: "The medium is the message."

Sigmund Freud: “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men's actions.”

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: "The Decalogue, the Second Commandment ... 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image...' I wondered ... why the God of these people would have included instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience. It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. We may hazard a guess that a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, iconographic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. Iconography thus became blasphemy so that a new kind of God could enter a culture. People like ourselves who are in the process of converting their culture from word-centered to image-centered might profit by reflecting on the Mosaic injunction ... [The] media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture's intellectual and social preoccupations."


we are spirits in prison, able only to make signals to each other

Fitzjames Stephen, in his letter to John Stuart Mill:

“All human language, all human observation, implies that the mind, the ‘I,’ is a thing in itself, a fixed point in the midst of a world of change... It is the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow… It seems to me that we are spirits in prison, able only to make signals to each other, but with a world of things to think and speak which our signals cannot describe at all.”


Grouch Marx: "Outside of a dog, a book is Man’s best friend. And inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read."

Maxims of Ptahhotep, 3400 B.C.: "Be a craftsman in speech that thou mayest be strong, for the strength of one is the tongue, and speech is mightier than all fighting."

Francis Bacon (1561-1626): "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few are to be chewed and digested... Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider."

Barrow: "He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes."

Ray Bradbury: "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

Robertson Davies: "There are great numbers of people to whom the act of reading a book - any sort of book - is wondrous; they speak of the reader in the tone of warm approbation which they use otherwise when referring to pregnant women, or the newly dead."

S. I. Hayakawa: "In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read."

John Kieran: "I am a part of everything that I have read."

Louis L'amour (1908-1988): "For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time."

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864): "What is reading, but silent conversation."

Lord Edward Lytton (1803-1873): "In science, read by preference the newest works. In literature, read the oldest. The classics are always modern."

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923): "The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books."

Richard McKenna: "Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."

John Russell: "I cannot think of a greater blessing than to die in one's own bed, without warning or discomfort, on the last page of the new book that we most wanted to read."

B. F. Skinner (1904-1990): "We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading."

Socrates (469-399 BC): "Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writing so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for."

Henry David Thoreau: "Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all."

Atwood H. Townsend: "No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance."

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723): "Choose an author as you choose a friend."      

Ralph Waldo Emerson: "If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads."

E.M. Forster: "At night, when the curtains are drawn and the fire flickers, my books attain a collective dignity."

Ezra Pound: "No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents."

Marcel Proust: "There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book."

John Ruskin: "A book worth reading is worth buying."

Sydney Smith: "No furniture is so charming as books."

Oscar Wilde: "The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read."

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: "Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language."

Thomas Jefferson: "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers."

Winston Churchill, quoted by William Manchester, The Last Lion: "The man who cannot say what he has to say in good English cannot have very much to say that is worth listening to."

Abraham Lincoln, Sept. 30, 1859, address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society: "A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones."

Richard de Bury: "A library of wisdom is more precious than all wealth, and all things that are desirable cannot be compared to it. Whoever therefore claims to be zealous of truth, of happiness, of wisdom or knowledge, must become a lover of books."

Paul Johnson, A New Deuteronomy: "When we are dealing with concepts like freedom and equality, it is essential to use words accurately and in good faith... beware of those who seek to win an argument at the expense of the language. For the fact that they do is proof positive that their argument is false, and proof presumptive that they know it is. A man who deliberately inflicts violence on the language will almost certainly inflict violence on human beings if he acquires the power. Those who treasure the meaning of words will treasure truth, and those who bend words to their purposes are very likely in pursuit of anti-social ones."

Emerson: "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language."

Frantz Fanon: "The business of obscuring language is a mask behind which stands the much bigger business of plunder."

Joseph Joubert: "Abuse of words [is] the foundation of ideology."

Jonathan Miller, MD, The Body In Question: Miller explains the power of metaphor as an aid to thinking and problem-solving: "... medicine did not make an effective contribution to human welfare until the middle of the twentieth century. The great leap forward is often attributed to a rapid increase in heroic procedures and the discovery of new drugs, but what distinguishes the medicine of the past twenty-five years is not that its practitioners are equipped with an arsenal of antibiotics and antiseptics, but that they are furnished with a comprehensive and unprecedented understanding of what the healthy body is and how it survives and protects itself. We have today an impressive mastery of our illnesses precisely because we have a systematic insight into the processes which constitute health. This has been achieved by the accurate identification of the sort of thing our body is. And since finding out what something is is largely a matter of discovering what it is like, the most impressive contribution to the growth of intelligibility has been made by the application of suggestive metaphors... In their efforts to manage and master the physical world, human beings have shown a remarkable capacity for inventing devices which lift, dig, hoist, wind, pump, press, filter and extract... The practical benefits of such ingenuity have been so impressive that it is easy to forget how much we have learned from the image of such mechanisms. While they have helped us to master the world, they have been just as helpful in giving us a way of thinking about it and about ourselves. It is impossible to imagine how anyone could have made sense of the heart before we knew what a pump was. Before the invention of automatic gun-turrets, there was no model to explain the finesse of voluntary muscular movement. The immediate experience of the human body is something which we take for granted. We perceive and act with it and become fully aware of its presence only when it is injured, or when it goes wrong. Even then, the subjective experience of the body is usually incoherent and perplexing, and when we want it put right, we refer to people who have learnt to think about it with the help of technical metaphors: experts whose use of analogy has enabled them to visualise the body not merely as an intelligible system, but as an organised system of systems - which does not mean that man is an engine or that his humanity is a delusion."

Sir Oliver Lodge, Raymond: "Life [in the next world cannot] be expressed in terms of something else [i.e. as a metaphor]. This is true of all fundamental forms of being."

Harvard student brochure: "A student can arrive at college with no finer attribute than a mind well-stocked from reading."

John Locke: "Reading furnishes the mind only with materials for knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."

C.S. Lewis: "We read to be reminded that we are not alone."

Winston Churchill: making light of the need to follow absolutely the rules of grammar, focusing on dangling prepositions: "That is something up with which I will not put."

Simon & Garfunkle, I Am A Rock: "I have my books and my poetry to protect me..."

Thomas Carlyle: "If we think about it, all that a university or final highest school can do for us, is still but what the first school began doing - teach us to read. We learn to read in various languages, in various sciences; we learn the alphabet and letters of all manners of books. But the place where we are to get knowledge, even theoretic knowledge, is the books themselves. It depends on what we read, after all manners of prefessors have done their best for us. The true university of these days is a collection of books."

Og Mandino: "History is filled with stories of individuals who dated a new era in their lives from the reading of a single book."

Barbara Tuchman: "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in a sea of time."


"A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so.  It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones." Abraham Lincoln




Editor's last word: