An advertisement for a trip to Hawaii in 2022

While joining my daughter, a high school senior, on a recent tour of Vanderbilt University, I took this photo of a sign suspended high above a classroom lobby. It quotes Ludwig Wittgenstein: “A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.”

With no other references to the Austrian philosopher’s statement, my mind went in two directions.

First, a “new word” can mean an expanded vocabulary. Words are valuable tools of expression. They can communicate deeper meaning than a string of “you knows” and “just reallys.”

Adding new words to our vocabularies — not in show-off ways — can enhance our communication exponentially.

Second, I thought of the value of “new words” in terms of a fresh perspective that is offered. Not all conversations are created equal.

Some are stimulating. Others are mere reinforcements of existing prejudices and tired, untried opinions. Often the coffee shop or hallway ranting is a poor attempt to restate what some talking head said on TV the night before. And it wasn’t that good in its original form.

“Fresh words” can elicit rethinking and bring forth new meaning, unexplored insight or needed caution. Words have amazing power to shape our lives.

Conversations and proclamations that are wrought with unchallenged ignorance and unnecessary babble abound. Therefore, few things in life are as refreshing as a fresh word.

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