Language defines everything, yet it captures nothing — it will never be enough, yet it is all we have. 

When words are the lifeblood of my love, my work, my vision, it’s frightening to watch them obfuscate my feelings, dancing around their complexity.

Human beings protest words with a dismissal of language in the moments that wholly strangle us: a moment of silence to remember an entity deceased or our loss for words in a state of shock.

It’s hard for me to register the insufficiency of words when I’ve seen a room in tears because of a poet’s work. Or when I nestle into the literature department of my university to find a mother in the books, a father in my writings, a family united by the appreciation of verse. 

I catch the token words of authors in my mouth to cash in at the arcade of academia. Collect enough, and you, too, can win a prize! 

So often, we choke on words too large, regurgitating them like glimmering medallions, receipts of learning a celebrated style of language. 

As a young woman learning to write, I rearrange words to craft a new perspective — it’s visceral. I want to be new, I want to be heard, but most of all, I want to make an impression. 

It’s a constant fight not to picture you all as I am writing, sitting in green lawn chairs in the corners of my mind. You sit with lips pursed and heads tilted, wondering how to best suggest concision, rationalization.

I’m desperate to separate language from performance. Yet I cry in my car when I can’t get the words to bend to my will. Was it to make me unique, to make me understand myself, to understand others? My relationship with language is my construction of reality — my slice of the human obsession with meaning-making. 

When a boy told me that I occupy a special little space in his head, or that his mother called me beautiful. That was when I realized that words were heavy molds. They felt so true, so easy to shape into something grand, mighty, and substantial. I let them mean too much.

I don’t doubt each word to be an attempt at truthful representation. It’s not the syllables at fault — but the interpretations they so willingly invite. 

When a professor told me that I had a vision she had never seen before. When she said that I had what it took if I could just keep pushing deeper into the language. If I could just go a little further than the others had gone before. I couldn’t understand why she was asking me to become an archaeologist. 

Like I would find a new deeper meaning to the classic text after digging, as if the fossil wasn’t already on display. Even as a lover of analysis, I found myself doubting any author’s intentionality behind the color of a curtain. 

When is the dive too deep? When am I too pseudo-poet? 

I confided in my freshman-year English professor who found me a confidante: Addie Bundren. A character of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Addie acknowledged the insufficiency of language like no one I had seen before:

“He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore.”

It strikes me that even Addie’s refusal of language is conveyed through language. How even when we recognize their flaws, words are the only mechanism by which we can attempt to cultivate understanding. For that power — they have no replacement. 

I realized that we value words because of their insufficiency, extrapolating from language what we want to believe. 

A byproduct of their insufficiency, words are uniquely personal reflections of hope. When we speak, we frame situations only as they fit the vision of what we allow ourselves to see.

If a word is “a shape to fill a lack,” it is a shape we mold ourselves. In its ductility, a word is a medium conducive to artistry.

I am good at constructing meaning from the heavy molds of words. I pour myself into them, filling them, stacking them, piecing them together so that they fit the design of what I had in mind. 

My self-awareness of the inadequacy of words — my knowledge that language fails to capture the entirety of a feeling, leads me to an obsession with an extraction of depth. I am afraid that if I do not look deep enough into someone’s words I might miss a gem — the heart of the mine, the heart of their mind. 

I know that despite life’s advertisements, language is not universal. It is not singular. It is not true. Its capacity to be individually interpreted, personally owned, singularly perceived, is precisely why it is so valuable. 

I found another confidante in Jacques of Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist

“It can hardly happen twice in one day that someone’s words are understood in the same way as they are spoken.”

Jacques acknowledges the brokenness of language, noting how we rarely grasp others’ words the way that they were intended. Instead, we project a piece of ourselves into language perception. 

A man tells Jacques in the novel: “Just tell the thing as you will, I will listen as I can and believe as I am able.”

This call to “tell the thing as you will,” suggests the need to keep conversing, speaking, writing, in the face of the fallibility of language. 

I think the fallibility of language promotes the reader and the writer. As we overfill or underfill the mold of language, our interaction with language is artistry reflective of the self. 

Language is broken. It can never be fixed. Words are molded by our subconscious personal associations. They are incomplete, representative figures. 

Language is a vessel, and that is why I have dedicated my life to it. Words, in their subjectivity, remain valuable because they do not lead us into truth. They lead us into ourselves.

When I write, I soar. I’m the one who does the flying. The paragraphs fall away, the sentences fall away, the words fall away. Language is a mere mold that holds what I have already cultivated inside myself.

Alessia Degraeve covered student culture. She is an English major in the Saybrook College class of 2025.