One of our young writers sent me a link to "51 of the most beautiful sentences in literature" which illustrates the breadth of the value given to language. Yes, encapsulating a thought or an emotion which touched others in a special way, have been remembered, some for centuries.
Language is an art form – as authors, speech-writers, playwrights and writers of TV and film scripts, politicians, preachers .... It is the reason we remember some 'classic' lines. This 'art form' whether written or spoken, is very important as language conveys much more than words of clarity – rather sentiment and emotion.
For example, in the fourth Century the Constantinople preacher John Chrysostom was referred to as the Golden Mouth and was eventually exiled as he rubbed the Emperor up the wrong way just once to many times.
Shakespeare, writing in the 1500s, has been acknowledged as one of the greatest English wordsmiths of all time. So much so, that many of his epithets have come into common usage, even though people who use them may have no idea of their context within the original plays. Lines such as "to be or not to be, that is the question", "a plague on both their houses" and "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" (and others) are very familiar to English speakers in many different countries.
Around the time Australia was being settled, Jane Austen was writing her acknowledged classic novels. One classic quotes comes from the first line in her book 'Pride and Prejudice' - "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Moving up to the present day, there have been movies and TV series as well as books that have come to the fore as 'classics' because of their 'art of language'. The British radio programs such as 'The Goon Show' (epitomised by the line "you can't do THAT on television") and the TV series 'Yes Minister' with recalled with great affection.
The humour of this program, relying as it did on word play between the British Member of Parliament (not a cleric!) and the head of his Public Service Department, worked equally as well as a radio show. And of course, those who like the James Bond movies probably relish the never ending strings of clever 'double entendres'.
Not a lost art
Some people may think that the current younger generation has lost this 'art' – they may think that 'texting' is destroying the art of language; but not so, like poets through the ages, the writers have to work out how to communicate using the minimum number of words or characters. This has led to some innovative use of language, some of which may be more akin to codes that enable friends to communicate complex emotions without any casual reader understanding what they mean.
Similar expertise in writing and deciphering codes, of course, was once the preserve of secretive and very intelligent specialists who have such been influential in winning (and losing) wars down through the ages. Now every teenager can practise this particular art form.
Texting may even be helping to preserve what the experts call 'endangered languages'. Small farmers in Africa are using texting and mobile phones to carry out their marketing in their own languages, thus eliminating the expensive 'middle man' and retaining their own rich local culture.
And only recently I heard that 'texting' by the young people in Italy is keeping the local dialects alive because groups of young friends tend to use their ancient village languages in their 'secret' text messages rather than the formal Italian they learn at school.
And then there is the eternal Truth of the Bible.
The 1611 King James Version
This KJV version owes its timelessness to the care and particular attention its translators put into making sure that every phrase, every word, every message was not only checked against the Greek and Hebrew versions to verify its accuracy; but was also read aloud to make sure the poetry and emotion 'flowed'. This ensured that both prose and verse are easy to remember, with such classic texts as Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters."
The translation process has recently been shown on ABC television, in a program celebrating 400 years of this great work. The transcript can be found at:
It is not only the written word that has been important. History remembers the great orators such as Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King. Evangelists such as Billy Graham have displayed this 'art of language'. It was often the way he spoke that initially captured the imagination of his hearers. It was this aspect that led his hearers into a "heart conversation to God" for their eternal destiny.
Someone with the art of language has in their hands a most powerful weapon. The art of language is the basis of advertising, business, sport, entertainment, politics and not least, Religion. The question for every generation and every person, is how will it be used and will how easily might we be swayed.
Talking of advertising, every listener needs to be guided by common sense. The 'art of language' can, and has been, used to convey important secular, emotional and religious messages – those messages that are encapsulated in a short phrase or rhythmical poem that we can relate to and remember. These are sparkling jewels crafted by those given special Talents by God.
But there are also unsavoury aspects like those which Dickens (another gifted wordsmith) described in his character 'The Artful Dodger'. There are people who use their gift for words, or their spectacular oratory performances, for their own purposes or for those of selling something that we do not really want. History tells us of many evil dictators who won the hearts and minds of various populations with 'artful dodging' with their use of language.
Those with a purported Christian message have also been known to 'bear false witness' and to use their skills with language to present inaccurate messages or inappropriate interpretations of some Biblical verse or other.
How do Christians arm themselves against this?
I advocate that Christians should always go back to the source – the Scriptures - read its magnificent verses as a guide to their life. This has been created as a message from the Lord, and carefully and expertly translated and crafted. Not one person with a golden mouth – but many people over the centuries.
They all had their passions firmly rooted in the Truth and conveyed this to us through their gifted use of the 'art of language'.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html