Yes, words have value

Ask Larry Page if words have value

Where to expect even the Spanish Inquisition.

Ubiquitous PPC ad: Where to expect even the Spanish Inquisition.*

Nobody fully comprehends—and too many discount—what language and meaning are, how they connect or how they work. If you doubt, though, that words have value, just ask Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, which makes most of its money by selling words. Thousands of other companies make money by telling people how to use words on websites to  achieve SEO, and billions are “buyers” every time they do a search using a word.

Think harder

Words also have power: the power to hurt, to delight, to cause action, to raise up nations and to sell products and services. In all cases, communications are what people understand, not what the “speaker” intends that they understand. People have the natural (self-centered) feeling that once they’ve said something, their communications job is done. This is wrongheaded and unprofitable. Everything about communications relies on context, and context is a jewel with a thousand facets.

Power and utility


Power in language

It’s a characteristic of language that almost every thing, state of being, concept and action is represented by many different words, all with different “shades” of meaning. For example, the study of how language works is sometimes called linguistics, sometimes communications, sometimes documentation, sometimes grammar, sometimes usage, sometimes lexicography, sometimes etymology, sometimes poetics, sometimes rhetoric and now we have SEO and other  technologies that use and manipulate words digitally.

The term logos—the Words in Words & Technology—is a uniquely human construct, perhaps even “built-in” to the mind and brain. But while technology (τέχνηtechnē) has to do with making things, λόγος (logos)—words—convey meaning. Language assigns significance to actions, things, people, organizations, concepts, beliefs, states of being and, not least, technology.

Language is exceptional in its ability both to reflect and to change human activity and reality itself.

Using language requires producing not only what people call “literal” meanings, such as

Click Login. Then enter your username and password.

but also persuasive and imaginative meaning as in slogans:

A Smarter Planet (IBM) or Imagination at Work (GE).

or in poetry:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.**

To the audience, the message is the message and the medium is irrelevant so long as available.


* Students of popular culture will recognize this allusion to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and recognize this recurring this phrase and the impromptu appearance of hapless Inquisitors that followed it.

** “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost, 1922.

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Posted in Communicate, Communicate Your Technology, Technical Documentation

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