August 17th, 2013

When Words Fail

For a long time, when my boys were little, I preached to them “Numbers are absolute. Words, on the other hand, will always fail you.” It was easy to find examples. 2 + 2 always equals 4. Tram #8 here in Basel always turns the corner at the Sch├╝tzenhaus stop, and so on. They understood what I meant with “Numbers are absolute.”

Rather more difficult to illustrate was that business about words. Sometimes, they quickly learned, “No” really meant no, but other times they could turn it into a yes. Sometimes someone would yell at them, and then they might hear something like, “I didn’t mean I don’t love you. What I don’t love is when you throw your spaghetti at the wall.”

In time, the kids grew up and learned to tell jokes and see the irony in situations. They learned three languages, and made friends, and defended their rights and campaigned for new privileges. None of this happened with numbers. They mastered the use of words.

Every relationship depends on your ability to use words. Numbers are so very unimportant in relationships. Words are everything.

Now, does this ever happen to you? I often find myself having to judge whether someone is just thinking aloud, and nothing is to be taken at face value, or is this an important pronouncement, and I had better not forget a single word?

Day after day, in every relationship, we are tested. We have to recognize the meaning behind the words, the weighting we should give them, when to laugh it off and when to pay attention. The kids have mastered all this, of course. As for me, sometimes I feel like I’m back at square 1.

Some of the humorous moments in my first book, Doing Max Vinyl, came from simple misunderstandings between two characters. I think I could learn something from my characters. The words you say may well not be the words I hear because of the filter I use to process all the incoming stuff I hear. I might have one filter for you, and a different one for another person. It all seems pretty hard, leaving me with a question. When words fail, what can we do?


Frederick Lee Brooke launched the Annie Ogden Mystery Series in 2011 with Doing Max Vinyl and followed with Zombie Candy in 2012, a book that is neither about zombies nor sweets. The third mystery in the series, Collateral Damage, appeared in 2013. Saving Raine, the first book in Fred's entirely new series, The Drone Wars, appeared in December 2013, and was followed by its sequel, Inferno, in June 2014.

A resident of Switzerland, Fred has worked as a teacher, language school manager and school owner. He has three boys and two cats and recently had to learn how to operate both washing machine and dryer. He makes frequent trips back to his native Chicago.

When not writing or doing the washing, Fred can be found walking along the banks of the Rhine River, sitting in a local cafe, or visiting all the local pubs in search of his lost umbrella.

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One thought on “When Words Fail

  1. Martine Sangster

    Actions speak louder than words… one of the characters in Collateral Damage said that.

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