Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Power of Words

As I look back over the last 24 hours, I am stunned as to the power a word can carry. The word in contention is 'eulogy', which I used in my previous posting. People in Malaysia, England and across the States frantically enquired concerning the welfare of a beloved individual, amidst a torrent of confusion. It is as much my fault as it is others' curiosity and anxiety.

So I have looked up the word 'eulogy' in a number of dictionaries.

In the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, the definition states: "a speech, piece of writing, poem, etc. containing great praise, especially for someone who recently died or stopped working."

They also offer an explanation for the verb 'eulogize', as follows: "to praise someone or something in a speech or piece of writing."

Critics everywhere have eulogized her new novel.
They eulogized over the breathtaking views.

Dictionary.com offers a number of definitions and historical background too, which is enlightening. Their definition from Random House Dictionary goes like this: 
1. "a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, esp. a set oration in honor of a deceased person."
2. "high praise or commendation."

The American Hermitage Dictionary of the English Language Fourth Edition is similar in its definition: 
1. "A laudatory speech or written tribute, especially one praising someone who has died."
2. "High praise or commendation."

The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, defines the word 'eulogy' as "Words of praise, often for a dead person, but also a staple in introducing speakers, in nominating candidates, and on other such occasions."

"Eulogy" originated in the mid-15th century and is from the Greek word 'eulogia' meaning 'praise' from eu- "well" + -logia "speaking" which in turn was derived from 'logos' which means "word" or "discourse" and 'legein' meaning "speak". Eu legein literally meant "speak well of." (Taken from the Online Etymological Dictionary)

It may also have been influenced by the Latin word 'elogium' meaning "inscription on a tomb" which would go some way to explaining why it is used to address those who have passed away or at funerals. However, the Concise Oxford Dictionary Tenth Edition, merely states: "a speech or piece of writing that praises someone highly."

Meanwhile the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary reverses the order of the two definitions used in alternative dictionaries:
1. "a speech or piece of writing praising somebody/something very much"
2. "a speech given at a funeral praising the person who has died"

I could perhaps, have used a variety of different words to describe the nature of my previous post, other than 'eulogy'. Dictionary.com offered a number of synonyms as suggestions:


Where does this leave us?

Historically it appears to have been used to describe those who had passed away, even to describe an inscription on a tombstone. But as the centuries have rolled on and words evolve, it is widely accepted to describe both the original meaning and to praise somebody or something highly, whether dead or alive!

Words are powerful! It is imperative to select words with great care.


  1. only the Oxford definition did not mention praise for the dead. did u read the Oxford dictionary growing up ! well it was a good post . Power of Words ! KUDOS to you !

  2. Thanks Malvinder. I read the Oxford Dictionary from my bookshelf almost every day! Powerful stuff indeed!

  3. I am happy to hear that President Boone is still alive and well. I didn't realize that eulogy had so many meanings. Thanks for enlightening me!

  4. You're welcome, Elder Dickensheet. I wasn't fully aware of it myself until I was embroiled in the aftermath of the now famous "A Eulogy of President Joseph Flake Boone" post!

  5. Nice post duncan ^.^ always read ur blogs :D

  6. Thanks Garry! I appreciate your regular visits.


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