If you pull back a few moments and think about words in an objective sense — and I’m thinking specifically spoken words, you quickly discover that they are an unusual part of our world. Spoken words are not independent bodies or objects (like tables chairs, mountains, water, etc.) nor are they representational artifacts (like pictographs or petroglyphs) nor visual prompts (where each letter indicates a particular type of vocalization). Such characteristics are those of written words — you can point to them, see them, they represent something and you respond to the prompt by making the appropriate sound indicated by the specific symbol However, each spoken word is a complex blend of sound, formed by an individual through the precisely timed manipulation of muscle contractions, dental settings and controlled respirations, to project vibrations (pressure waves) through the air to convey something meaningful to another individual and/or group (i.e., they are not arbitrary noises, like sneezes or coughs). So far so good. However, by taking one more step beyond the obvious to examine the genesis of the spoken word, something fascinating emerges, especially in the context of traditional societies, who convey meaning from one generation to the next exclusively through spoken words (societies often simplistically referred to as ‘prehistoric,’ but more precisely described as ‘preliterate’). You often hear writers speak about the power of the written word, how words can move people emotionally or to action. But in preliterate societies, spoken words have power in them. Spoken words are creators, not descriptors — they possess something of the essence of the thing embedded in them. A perfect example is the Sami yoik – a song style that contains words and meaningful sounds. When a Sami imagines a bear and yoiks bear, they are not singing about the creature, they are singing the creature. with this same thought in mind, a Sami never utters the specific word for bear, especially during a bear hunt, even though that word is known and available. To do so brings the essence of the beast into play. Using its name brings it into the conversation — warns it of your intentions. That is why the Sami make allusions to the animal via similes and metaphors. One refers to the bear as, “Honeyed-pawed One,” or “Old Man of the Forest,” or “Shaggy-Coat.” Listening to a traditional speaker, you’ll notice that the words are usually spoken evenly and with deliberation. Knowing every word has power in it, means that the person speaking must be thoughtful. To do otherwise would be foolish and disrespectful of the power of creation.