Ep 41: Why Words Matter

On this episode, Erica explores the energetic force of words and why the words you choose matter. She invites listeners to be more attentive to the words that they use, and to think about how the energetics of language can be used to increase the impact of their messaging. Erica also challenges listeners to play with the energetics of language in their personal life – whether through text messages or conversations with friends.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


words, energetics, energy, hear, language, trudge, communication, matter, swearing, messaging, google trends, synonyms, feel, woowoo, depleted, skip, drudgery, essence, actionable

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:36

You’ve heard the expression “words matter”. Have you ever wondered, like truly wondered, what does that mean? Why do they matter? We hear all the time words matter, words matter. I mean, Pearl Strachan Hurd said, “handle them carefully, for words have the power of atom bombs”. And we tend to think of this metaphorically, but in reality, the reason words matter is because words are matter. Each one has its own energetic force. And since they are matter, they are subject to the same universal laws of physics of thermodynamics by which all matter abides. I refer to this as the energetics of language. I thought about calling this theory or whatever it is wordergy, like word plus energy, you put them together, but that just feels cumbersom to say. I’m open to other ideas. But let’s stick with the energetics of language and let’s talk through what this means. Because this is a very different way of thinking about words. Alright, so for instance, words are subject to Newtons third law of motion: for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Saying or writing or whatever-ing a word is an action. The word itself has physicality. And it takes on the energy of the mode of delivery. So let’s play with this just for a bit. I’m going to say three words, and I want you to feel the energy, like where is it? What type of energy? Upbeat, medium? Whatever it is for you, okay? I’m gonna say three words, you know all these words, there’s nothing fancy, no tricks. So the first word is walk, simply walk. Okay. And I was working with a client yesterday, and we did this activity and what came back, what usually comes back is a combination of kind of medium energy, could be peaceful, right? But nothing high vibing, but nothing low either. So, that’s walk, right? But what about skip? Skip by definition, I mean, you’ve skipped, I’ve skipped, it’s tough to skip and not kind of feel upbeat about it, unless you’re in like a boot camp and then sometimes it is, you know, not as fun, but in general, the word skip has kind of a high energy feel to it. Now what about the word trudge, even like the way you said it was sort of like leading horse to water, right? Trudge. It has like a weight to it, like a heaviness. It’s almost like a blanket, but not in a cozy way more like a ooh, you’re bringing me down type of way. Now all three of these words, and these are synonyms, fundamentally for mode of transportation or ambulatory, that will get you from point A to point B. Walk, skip trudge. You could walk from here to the coffee shop, you can skip, although that would take a lot of energy and be a really good workout, or you could trudge. They are all synonyms, but just feel how differently, like feel the difference in the energy of those words, walk, skip trudge, just different, right? So also, as matter words are subject to the second law of thermodynamics. And of course, as you’ll remember, the second law of thermodynamics tells us that there’s a fixed amount of energy in all systems. So this explains why some words seem to lose energy over time, right? They lose energy over time. So if you keep using the same word over and over and over again, it just depletes over time. Right? And as with all things, our brains start to notice it less and less, because the novelty wears off. And you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s a word or I mean, it can be anything that our brain comes into contact with. If it is new, and it is novel, our brain actually is not super picky about what the newness is. It will notice if it is new, and that wears off over time, right? So think of the word COVID. When we first started hearing it, it made our ears perk up and our hearts race right there was like danger. It was new, and it was scary. It’s still scary, right? It’s still scary, and it’s not new. So everywhere we turn its COVID this and COVID that. What we don’t hear as much, the word that we don’t hear as much, that we heard sort of in the beginning of 2020 when all of this was just amping up was the word Coronavirus. So just take a moment here and notice how those words land for you, COVID versus Coronavirus. Coronavirus now we know what it is and just because we don’t hear it as much, our brains kind of perk up a little bit more and these words have different energy. So, you know, actually in the early days I totally will out myself, I had this moment I’m like, I don’t think I know the difference between Coronavirus and COVID. Are they interchangeable? Then we learned of course that Coronavirus is as the name implies the virus and COVID is the disease that you can get from Coronavirus. So I got kind of interested in this and I was looking at Google Trends and in the US COVID is used way more than the word Coronavirus. Like way more. And in fact, that’s true globally, save for in Austria and Germany, both places where they speak German. So I don’t know if that’s something about the German language and usage. I don’t know, I find that very intriguing. But everywhere else in the world, regardless of language we were referring to the disease much more than the virus. And as a result over time, COVID became less novel Coronavirus, you know, isn’t as novel as it was when we first heard about it, but it is more so than COVID. So their energies are different out of the gate, and then one energy has been depleted over time. Let’s look at another example. And cover your ears if you don’t like swearing, because I’m about to channel my inner Megan McNally who you can listen to on episode 12 and of her own admissions swears like a trucker. I mean, she did found the FBomb Breakfast Club, so there’s that. Okay, so the second example is the word fuck. When I was growing up, like you never heard anybody say this word. I don’t even know how old I was when I first heard this word. But, I was not a spring chicken, I was older. And then you know, like if somebody actually said it, it’s like a jolt, right, because it was so unusual to hear it, and this word has, if you compare it to other swear words, and I will not go down the list because I know that swearing can be triggering for some folks. But you know, if you want to talk about energy, you can do that in your mind or out loud, they have a different energy. But again, as with COVID, because now, I mean, we abso-fuckin-lutly hear the word fuck all the time to the point that in some movies, I’m like, does it even have any meaning? I don’t know. So it is, you know, it’s not as shocking. I mean, it is the only word in the English language, I find this so fascinating, that can be used as every part of speech. So it gets a gold star for flexibility and being able to shine in a wide variety of environments. But put another way, because of its versatility, but also just the sheer increase in usage, which again, you can look at Google Trends and see that this is a thing, it has lost some of its energy, some of its spark. I mean, it’s not like saying Darn it, you know, it has more zing than that still for sure. But it’s linguistic battery has been depleted. That has been depleted. Okay, so what do these insights mean for you, aside from now, you know, whether or not you’re networking online or in person, you have some like fun facts, right? Who doesn’t want to talk about the laws of motion and thermodynamics? Someone who wants to use language, someone like you, to make the world a better place, what does this mean for you practically speaking? It means that you want to be attentive to the energy of the words you’re using, not just attentive to the words as we think of them, usually in like, the more cerebral, is that the word that means what I want it to mean? Also, just sidebar here, you know, there’s always two things happening in any communication, there’s what is said or written received, let’s stick with received, so can be any mode of communication. So there’s what is received. And then there’s what’s sent out, and then there’s what’s received. So there is the speaker, and there’s the listener, there’s the writer, and there’s the reader. And we will have different interpretations based on our life experience and all the rest of it, right? So yes, continue to pay attention to that, continue to wonder how your words will land, in terms of the technical definitions of them. But what I’m inviting you to do is a little bit different. I literally want you to start wondering and noticing the energy that different words and different collections of words, also referred to as sentence, give off, okay, so not just their meaning, their energy. So back to walk, skip, trudge. Those are all synonyms, right? But they each have a very different energy. So this is why when I work with clients, I almost never, ever ask the question, I really try never have a question, what do you think? So, we’ve worked together, I’ve developed some messaging, I’m showing that to them, we’re going through it, I don’t say what do you think? Because that invites them into a place that is all above the neck, right? All in their head. And language is based in emotion, right? We can look at that as well and go back to both emotion and motivation. The root is the mot, which is from Latin, which means action. Right? In French, the word for word is mot. So all of this, it really is about emotion. So what I ask is, and at first people raise an eyebrow, and you’re probably like, wow, Erica, like you are hopping on that woowoo train. But let’s just remind ourselves that this is actually grounded in science. Right? And you know what, I’m okay with being on the woowoo train. Because what I ask is, “how does that make you feel?” When you see this new mission statement, new vision, purpose, when you see your values, and the definitions that we’ve come up with, how do they make you feel? And if they make you feel meh, our works not done. And it’s such a cool experience. I mean, I just have to say, with every single client I work with, you can feel it in the group when they are there. And I can never promise a client like, oh, you know, you’re going to get there next Thursday, or you’re going to get there four weeks from now. But I can guarantee that there will be a moment when maybe not everyone, I mean, with big clients, you know, maybe it’s not everybody, but where the majority come to this, just the same place in terms of like, yeah, yeah, that speaks so powerfully and truly, to what we do and why we do it, we’re there. And this is especially true of what I call the identity statements, mission, vision, values, purpose, which I cover in Episode 27. So if you’re curious about that, and those statements, the definitions that I give them, and how I use them, you can go listen to episode 27. Because those statements are the essence of who you are as an organization, or if you’re doing it for you personally, who you are as an individual. So that’s why getting out of the head and into the body, not just the heart, but into the whole body, it’s so much more actionable. I mean, I really have to say, when I made the shift in terms of working with my clients, it’s tough, because oftentimes you’d say like what do you think, you know, that draws in like, “well, I don’t know, technically, we kind of do X Y Z and so this is a little off” it’s just that actually it is less actionable than the energy on this is flat. This doesn’t capture how we activate, it doesn’t capture, like the, you know, the energy that we’re putting out to the world. So things like flat, or too perky or whatever, which this ties to brand personality, obviously, as well, you want to stay in alignment with that, it just tends to be way more actionable. So that was kind of a cool discovery. Again, this may seem a little woowoo. And this is a very, very, very, very, very different way of thinking about words and if your brain is cramping, I totally get that. And just to be clear, I am not saying that your messaging and communications can be utter gobbledygook. Like you can’t sit back and be like, well, the vibes right dude, right? And have people be like, yes, but I have no idea what you’re saying. That is not the counsel that I’m offering. What I’m saying is you can use this insight about the energetics of language, to increase the impact of your communications of each email, of each newsletter, each op-ed you pen, write all of them, you could increase the impact by really applying these principles of the energetics of language and starting to wonder like, how does that feel to me? And how is that going to feel to the receiver of this communication? This is why oftentimes, when it comes to messaging and communications, oftentimes not all the time, but often less is more. It is why communicating the essence is so much more effective than your everything. I mean, we’ve covered this in prior episodes, but when you tell someone your everything, they remember nothing. So there’s that. And since word of mouth marketing is still one of the most cost effective modes of communication, you want people to not just remember what you’ve said, but also be able to repeat it right? So that’s why the essence matters. Also, when you clearly and compellingly communicate the essence of what you do, why you do it, right? You up the odds, that the reaction to each word will be greater, right? For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. And if you just by really distilling it down, every single one of the words and the collection of words has a greater impact, it can go further for you. It can go further for you. This accelerates and amplifies progress towards your goals, it increases the velocity at which you can achieve your vision. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And all of us go through about 15,000 words a day. Words are you know, I think of them as like one of the ultimate renewable resources. So yes, they can use their energy but there’s a different word that hasn’t been that has latent energy, because it hasn’t been used as much. And we get we get to cycle through this. So, there’s always this word with the right energy out there, waiting for you. The work is to find it, the work is to be curious enough and open enough to go find those words. So there my friends, is the energetics of language in a nutshell. I just I really hope you’re gonna start playing with this idea of the energy of your words, which have fun, you know, this shouldn’t be drudgery. One of the things that really bums me out, is when I see folks and they’re just like working so hard to find the root word. And it’s just taking all the joy out of it. Right? It’s not that the words that you land on will necessarily be sparky, that would be truly off brand, for a lot of organizations. But the process itself, I mean, this is exploration. So keep your mind open, keep your heart open, right? This should be fun, if it’s drudgery, take a break. Also, if you need or want someone to play with words with you to work to find that right energetic balance for your messaging, reach out to me. I love creating powerful messaging for purpose driven clients. I really, truly do. It’s what lights me up. So reach out, get in touch, and let’s make it happen. Even if you decide not to do this within your organization, many listeners, you know, are leaders and so, you go pretty quickly to like, okay, how can I implement this and I just want to say, if you stand up at this, the next staff or board meeting, you’re like, “let’s talk about the energetics of language”. you may have mixed responses. I’m happy to come in and talk about that, Because clearly, there are few things I love talking about more. But you know, you want to tread a little lightly, start with doing it personally. Start with your emails, your text messages. That can be a very low bar for where you begin playing with this idea of the energetics of language. I’m so excited about seeing how this plays out for leaders, for organizations, for people who really want to make the world a better place. Let me know, let me know how it goes. Let me know how you’re playing with the energetics of language goes. As always, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for the work you’re doing in the world. The world is a better place because of you. You are incredible. You are amazing. You’re awesome. Never forget it. Do good, be well, and I will see you next time.

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