Words are not just important, they are the key invention of Homo sapiens, which separates us by miles from the other animals here on planet earth. With our complex languages and hundreds of thousands of words, we describe things we can see and touch and things we only imagine. What is in front of us and what is not. The trick is to string words together in clear sentences that tell a story, an imaginative vision, or a descriptive picture. For me, the challenge is to use surprising and creative language within those sentences to catch the reader’s attention — to make the effort an entertainment for both writer and reader.
Lots of species communicate non-verbally. Humpback whales sing to each other, lions roar meaningfully, gorillas thump their chests, birds trill away. But these and other animal communications are only basic modes of signaling. No other species is equipped to form words which can describe, hurt, make pictures, elate, curse, relay emotions, instruct, excite, and all the other things that words can do. “But,” you ask, “aren’t we the only species that has sex just for fun and not necessarily to procreate? Doesn’t that also distinguish us from the other animals?” Tell that to the Bonobo monkeys. “But we use tools and have an opposable thumb.” Yes, we do. And so do Chimpanzees, our nearest relative.