A few weeks ago, I was working with a client when he said this: “I hate words.”

Immediately, I had to suppress a chuckle. This comment was inserted into a conversation that was so lengthy that the printed transcript was more than 40 pages long — and almost all of the text came from the client’s own mouth.

Irony aside, once I spent some thinking not only about what he’d said, but also about what he meant, I realized this:

It wasn’t words he disliked. It was words offered for no apparent purpose.

In this conversation, which was about developing a website, he repeatedly referred to the Apple.com site as a paragon of maximum impact, minimal verbiage. He loved the fact that almost immediately upon looking at the images on any of the main landing pages, and after reading the short blurbs associated with each, you knew exactly what the message was. Even more, you came out of the experience with a feeling (there’s that “feel” word again), a call to action — hopefully, to buy more Apple products!

I couldn’t agree with my client more. As a writer, I take great pride in what I write. That said, I think almost every writer I know is looking for that One. Perfect. Word. As professional wordsmiths and phrasemongers — heck, even as amateurs — we all seek those moments when just a few short syllables will convey the greatest possible meaning. Most of the time we really don’t want to blather on simply for the sake of reaching some requisite word count.

That said, we shouldn’t forget that we humans communicate not just to exchange information and/or the bottom line, but to help each other understand how we’ve arrived at conclusions. To share experiences. To help people understand the context, the rationale, the sometimes-inexplicable-but-worth-considering reasons for the things we do or the products we’re trying to sell.

Think about your childhood for a moment (or your own children’s childhoods). Most people will remember that whenever they were told something (a “what” statement), they always followed up with a question (a “why” response).

“Daddy’s at the store.” “Why?” “The sky is blue.” “Why?” Remember how the answer, “Just because,” was never sufficient? As humans, we don’t generally like to be told that “that’s just the way it is.” We want to know why something is the way it is. And sometimes, it takes a few words, or even many words, to explain the why.

I’m thinking now of Twitter tweets and novels, and how the value of the one doesn’t discount the value of the other. Sometimes a pithy tweet is like a picture: 140 characters equalling a thousand words. But at other times, it’s just not enough. We need context, we need information, we need to know how things and ideas and concepts and issues and problems and solutions fit together, we need to know more than how many people have “liked” or “retweeted” a particular blurb. We need to know what it means.

My advice? Don’t throw babies, ideas or context out with the bathwater. Words are your friends, whether they come as captions to an image, in 140-character bursts or in 100,000-word novels. Match the need with the medium and the message, and you’ll be fine.

Even with people you know who supposedly hate words.

UPDATE: The site referenced in my opening anecdote has launched. The pictures are beautiful. The words are great. There aren’t too many of either. The client is happy.

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