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What sets the human species apart from all others? I believe it is not that we have a superior brain or opposing thumbs; it is language, our ability to communicate with words.

I recently learned that a crow, a bird with a high level of intelligence, makes a different sound if a human is approaching, than if a cat is in the vicinity. I have also noticed that crows in America make a different sound than those in the UK; could it be that these birds have local accents.

It appears that crows have a simple language, but not anything close to the sophistication of human words that can not only be spoken, but written too.

I prefer the written word; it can be edited; whereas often the spoken word comes out and cannot be taken back. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is seldom true.

Physical pain we tend to forget, but when someone says something nasty those words are locked away in our memory bank to be brought back along with the hurt, over and over again.

It takes a strong person to recognize that these were only words and it is our choice to relive them. It is not easy, if I say “Don’t think of elephants," the first thing that will come to your mind is a large grey animal with big ears and a trunk.

Fond memories can be re-told to others and relived in our own mind. Bad memories often get re-told and are exaggerated, made worse than they originally were. The cleaver lines and comebacks we recite in re-telling the story, is not what was actually said, but rather what we wish we had said.

Told over and over the stories eventually become our reality. Others will steal our stories, make them their own and retell them until they become their reality. This is how urban myths are born.

“Talk is cheap,” is another common expression. Some can talk for hours and say nothing; certain politicians have honed this to an art form. Words may be cheap, but say the wrong thing and it can cost a politician or other public figure dearly.

People who talk incessantly miss out on a lot. For one thing by talking continuously they are not letting others express their views; then when the other person speaks they are not listening because they are thinking of what they will say next.  

It is only by listening to others that communication pays off; a thought from outside our own mind can spark an entirely new line of thinking.

Words can be powerful at times but other times are inadequate. When my niece emailed me recently expressing her feelings over the death of her brother, words failed me. Had I been there I would not need words, just to listen, hold her hand or give her a hug would have been enough.

There is a water bird in England called a Moorhen; they mate for life. One day I saw one that had been run over and reduced to road kill; its mate just stood there at the side of the road looking at it. That bird expressed to me the feeling of sorrow as I drove by, and I felt empathy.

I am sure birds and animals have the same feelings we do; joy, sorrow, anger, compassion; however, they don’t have words to express these feelings.

Words are not always necessary, and  though cheap should not be wasted. Words can build us up, or knock us down; they can be both our blessing and our curse.


Do you have any words to add on the subject of words?


Reader Comments (9)

"I am sure birds and animals have the same feelings we do; joy, sorrow, anger, compassion; however, they don’t have words to express these feelings." Very true. It is for these reasons we should stop using them for research, eating them, hunting them, or otherwise using them for all sorts of things, including bicycle saddles. Capacity for language has nothing to do with the capacity to suffer, in which animals are absolutely our equals.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames


August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn GRUMP

I've been wondering recently how children learn some words. How does a 2 year old learn the word "mine". Who teaches them that word and why do they understand the meaning so much better than they do the word "please" for instance. Maybe it would be better to spend my time wondering why many adults still cling to that word when it comes to sharing, as in "sharing the road" for example.

Thank you Dave, I enjoy your blog.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermdfrank

Accents! I have been in the USA for 54yrs now, Thirty more than I lived in Brum England, BUT I STILL have a bloody Brit accent! My self I am not aware of this, but everyone I am in touch with IS, even to the point of some saying " Your from Brum aint you" I guess that the voice box gets toned to a accent when real young and never changes, I have noticed that Brit singers can voice a Yank accent when singing, but when they start to talk, back comes the Brit twang. I think one of the most different sounds is the 'A' Why do us Brits say a broard A like ARE? Like in BARTH(Bath) and ARSE(Ass) Gararge etc. Is this the same with all races even Yanks? By the way whilst writing this some bloody crows are outside, sound the same as in Brum to me.

August 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn GRUMP

Dave --

Well said.


August 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterleroy

A pervasive problem among young people: they talk incessantly about themselves, and loudly; they talk to strangers not only about personal details but also don’t care to listen. They already know everything and can’t wait to let you know.
Their running of the mouth precludes any discussion. Instead of speaking a bit to promote dialog, they cram their monologue with such details it exhausts any captive audience.
Is this a result of being “connected”, social media sites, Twitter, Facebook? Or coffee shops that have turned into wordless bastions of patrons staring at a screen? Or bars with distracting and loud multiple monitors that discourage thinking and talking?
The art of conversation is lost.
When right and wrong, good and evil become relative, there is no longer meaning to words.
And this is not being addressed by anyone as one of the root causes of the world’s ills. Those young people will inherit the world they create, NOT one ruined by their elders.

August 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Well said STEVE, Listen and LEARN is what I found after my 78 years. Who knows you may profit from this.

August 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn GRUMP

No argument here. You did however omit one common saying. "You have two ears but one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak."

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

I read your blog regularly and enjoy hearing your perspective on all things cycling. A very reasonable one it is.
To your discussion of crows, check out this program if you have a chance.
Very informative as to their level of intelligence.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermatthew r.

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