Words: what for? I think Saint-Exupery knows.

Sometimes, I am inclined to compare my words to silence, which I imagine as a clean white slate... Sometimes I consider all that I have said in a particular day, and see words I could have said differently, or not at all.
When I teach, I often ask my students what their demands are of language. I fear that many people use language as a glorified means for bartering and trade. For food, partners, roofs, decoration. Beneath people's bartering stare, are the fears that keep them from beginning to articulate their wants and fears; they are held back within themselves, which is not to say that they do not feel the tidal pull of the moon, or the strong, guiding hands of the sun.
George Eliot observed that it is easier to believe lies about people than to do the work to reach the truth. This work is easier with some people, and near impossible with others, who are like hoarders in their thoughts. And thanks to extensive tv coverage of hoarders, most of us know, without ever having wished to see it, the terrible obstruction of the hoarder's house: one can barely make one's way through, things and memories get lost beneath too much, and the space of better times is lost.
As I grow older, I become afraid that I will become dismissive of other people, those people who have not even begun to understand that while we can define certain aspects of ourselves, we still remain a mystery, even to ourselves. The best we can do is to learn to walk in that mystery. But people paste masks over themselves: "I'm a type-A"; "I get the job done just right"; "I am sad".

If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, 
it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel's heart beat, 
and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence, writes Eliot.

When I think of Eliot, I think of her as an "ambassador of the human spirit" - the kind the Little Prince was searching for in the newly discovered variations of the eponymous book's draft. Ambassadors of the human spirit describe other people in a way that is sensitive to the particulars of individual context.
So, in answer to the question of this post, words are, in part, diplomacy of the human spirit; a medium of good will. Whether they are abused is another question. This is why I think that the world needs more writers who remind us of such diplomacy, of the potential depth of negotiation. Do we really want to live and die in the marketplace? Not even livestock does.

The Little Prince "had gone directly from the desert to the Himalayas. He had dreamed for so long of a stretch of mountains! To know a real mountain. He knew three volcanoes very well. But they came up to his knees. ... He had said to himself, 'From the mountain, I shall be able to see the whole planet all of humanity at once.' But he had seen nothing but needle-sharp peaks of granite and large fallen masses of yellow earth. So he set off again... 'Where are the men?' said the little prince to himself as he was traveling. He met the first of them on a road. 'Ah!' he said to himself, 'I am going to find out what he thinks about life on this planet,' he said. 'He may be an ambassador of the human spirit...'" Text adapted for flow.
But this man, according to the unpublished chapter variants, was looking for a six-letter synonym for gargarisme beginning with the letter "G". While gargarisme is translated as gargle, it can also mean mouthwash, or to drink, taste or lap up - as in lap up praise. The word has to do with the mouth and throat: where words come from. The irony is that the man is looking for the synonym of the word - but is forgetting about its meaning, its relevance to real life. The irony is that the man cannot, therefore, be the "ambassador of the human spirit". The task he set for himself in his "work" causes him to lose the essence.
The exchange seems somewhat tragic, though it's hard to know what Saint-Exupery meant from the fragment. It is possible that there is no such six-letter synonym for that word.
The man's word problem says something about the nature of academia. It questions whether scholars who have devoted a great percentage of their life to a subject actually remembered to ask what their study means. (Do we ask what words are for? We use them every day.)
The exchange says something about "synonyms". So often, even in academia, what is taken to be of equal meaning is far from it. There are some historical thinkers who misunderstood their thinker predecessors. On his deathbed, one such predecessor said to his student: "You, of all my students, understand me best. But none of you has understood me!" Disciples of that student today mourn how nobody understood his ideas! So, when I teach my students the importance of reading comprehension, I realise why such a task may seem frustrating. We all, at one time or another, lack the patience or humility to comprehend a given subject. If we claim to have understood, like with the synonym, we cannot have first prescribed the shape of our answer.
Ours is a world of hearsay and echoes, one in which we forget to look at the original meaning of the things we use every day. I am not saying that we should withdraw to the hills and meditate: the Little Prince already showed us that it will look nothing like what we imagined.
But do we know how to use the words we have, generous in spirit, or are we guttural, stuck within ourselves, as was the primordial grunt?

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