Words Spoken are not Premeditated

Have you ever been surprised by what you said? Of course—but that would be impossible if you knew in advance what you were going to say.

This is a small quotation from Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan. I must say that I am really enjoying this book. It certainly has me thinking about a lot of things. Today I have been thinking about the scene from which this quote came from. It has me wondering about the relationship between speech and thought.

I believe that it is impossible to think before we speak in all occasions. I know that I have put my foot in my mouth one too many times in this life. I have said things that I immediately had wished that I could have withdrawn. Why did I say these things? Was I not thinking? Apparently not. I have learned in my times not to be so blunt but besides making faux pas, I have also said some pretty intelligent and amazing things from time to time.

One thing I do when I am working on a writing project, essay, or assignment is to talk about the subject I am writing about. I have discovered that I can figure things out and come to amazing insights through my speech more so than I can with just thinking. I am not alone in this either. Marshall McLuhan wrote,

I have to engage in endless dialogue before I write. I want to talk a subject over and over… I do a lot of my serious work while I’m talking out loud to people. I’m feeling around, not making pronouncements. Most people use speech as a result of thought, but I use it as the process.

I agree with his statement wholeheartedly. It reminds me of how Emcees can come up with intricate rhymes right off the top of their heads, how comedians can improvise routines and scenes in the same way, and how as a teacher I can deliver a lesson and come up with examples to relate to the class seemingly out of nowhere.

I always knew that my brain discovered things from talking. I used this to help me through university. Discussing a text often opened up new ways for me to see the book and the topic of my essays. It was like magic. And it still works. The only problem is finding someone to bounce all my ideas off of.

Here is another Mindscan quote,

You might start a sentence that will end up being twenty or thirty words long. Do you really believe that you have thought out that whole sentence in your brain before you start speaking it? Stop for a moment right now, and think this thought: ‘On the way home from court today, I’d better pick up some bread and milk.’ It took measurable time for you to think that, and yet we can talk nonstop for extended periods without pauses to work out the thoughts we want to express. No, in most speech we discover what it is that we’re going to say as it is said—just as those listening to us do.

So, if we are in agreement here, that speech is not premeditated and that we can’t possible think of everything that we are going to say. Where does this speech come from?

I love being able to mull over topics through dialogue and conversation. I have used speech to write songs, and I know other artists who do the same thing. Sometimes just turning on the microphone and hitting record, not knowing what you are going to do can end up in a great song idea, and on lucky occasions an entire song.

There are so many mysteries in life. I love the mystery of speech.

One response to “Words Spoken are not Premeditated”

  1. As you are discovering, there are some great nuggets of insight in Robert J. Saywer’s books. That’s why I like them so much. I agree that words spoken are not premeditated. That’s how we hurt other people unintentionally, and how something we think is funny actually turns out terribly wrong when spoken. (I’m guilty of that.) S