Final Word

The Power of Words rediscovered


Maybe the time has come for you to also revisit some forgotten books your bookshelf, and if you do, I predict you will rediscover forgotten treasures.

Being in that phase of my life which is, euphemistically called ‘down-sizing’ – moving into living quarters more appropriate too your dwindling physical- and income capacities, no longer needing space for the kids (who are no longer kids) to play, ect. – I scouted my bookshelves this past weekend, looking for books I could part ways with – donate, dish out (to those kids, no longer kids) or take to the second-hand bookstore.

In the process, I rediscovered a number of old printed, and binded treasured ‘friends’ more than worthy a revisit before parting ways with them – that is, if I will ever find it possible to gross that ‘parting-bridge.’


One of the very first rediscoveries I made, was my 1964 edition of Norman Lewis’s book “Power With Words,” first published in 1943 (four years before I saw my first light of day), sub-titled: The up-to-date guide that helps you say what you mean the way you mean to say it.

Intending a quick leave through, before it going to the to-go stack, my eye fell on a few examples I want to share with you. The first going to the heart of this column:   

  • ·         “… your next step in gaining power with words (besides broadening your vocabulary) is to begin to dig behind the meaning of a word into its source and history.

“To discover, for example that misogynist (woman hater) is made up of three Greek particles (misein, hate, gyne, woman, and the suffix -ist, one who) gives you an understanding of the word that the speaker who merely knowns its definition does not possess.

“You are no longer a word apprentice, who sees only the outside of the machine he’s driving; you are a word technician, who understands the vast intricacy of all the parts that make it possible for the word to go.”

  • The second, on the word chauvinist, told me more about the present antics of for instance the group Black first Land first (BLF) movement in South Africa. What Lewis tells us about the origin of chauvinist: “Nicholas Chauvin was a soldier in the army of Napoleon. So fervently and fulsomely did Chauvin praise the emperor that his name became a by-word for the very thing he was doing.”

My prediction

I’m sure that by now you can guess that Power With Words did not make it to the “to-go” stack. It, for now at least, is on my bedside table – reconsideration pending.

I’m willing to predict that, if and when, you get to that down-sizing phase in your life, you too would go through similar experiences.

And, by the way, the word prediction, I can tell you – courtesy Lewis – comes from three Latin words/components: pre-, before, dict-, from the verb dico, to say or tell, and ion, a suffix signifying the “act of.”

Interestingly, the more or less synonym for prediction, prophecy, we get from Greek and its three components of pro-, phe-, and cy, which are almost identical to the Latin components of prediction. The different ‘feel’ between the two can probably ascribed to the religious connotations associated with prophecy.

Final word

To all my fellow members of the ‘down-size generation’, best of luck with the emotional rollercoaster ride!

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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