OnWords: No Words

Mar 6, 2018

Alert listener Ryan Philbrick noted the current trend of using the words “no words” when one is overcome with emotion.

Indeed, there are plenty of words one can use in these situations, from “devastated” and “apoplectic,” to “saddened,” or, if you don’t want to commit, “deeply moved.”

One way of looking at the “no words” phenomenon is that the person doing it is trying to say that the words available don’t express the true depth of emotion, as in “I’m so incredibly saddened that the words ‘incredibly saddened’ seem inconsequential.”

People may also use the term “no words” because we feel disconnected: if we were present to actually support people instead of being on the other end of an internet connection, we might give them a hug or openly weep with them.

It’s also possible that we say “no words” because we use too many words already, and words seem cheap. Texting, email, and social media have increased the quantity of communication at the cost of its quality, so words, being everywhere, make it difficult to place our caring specifically and accurately.

Perhaps I was feeling some of this cheapening when I wrote my new year’s resolution for 2018: write better; write less.