A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

A word is worth a thousand pictures.

Sure, the reverse is true — a picture is worth a thousand words — but I think the words, in many cases, are more valuable.

Because if I say the word “baby,” “tree,” or “friend,” each of you immediately had a picture flash in your mind of a particular baby, tree, or friend. Maybe it’s your own child or your baby pictures. It’s the tree you climbed when you were a kid. It’s the friend you haven’t kept in touch with.

A photo of my son when he was about 18 months old. A word is worth a thousand pictures, because if I just say 'baby' I'll bet you think of your own.

When I hear 'baby,' I think of my son.

We think in words. Our internal monologue is based on language, not pictures. Even when you flashed on the image of your errant friend, you probably thought, “I haven’t seen her in so long. I should call her.” You didn’t follow up her face with images of a sad face, a telephone, and a scene of the two of you, smiling and laughing, eating lunch.

Language is so ingrained in our way of thinking that it’s actually part of how we learn. In fact, many childhood experts say that it’s not until kids start talking through problems that they can direct their own learning and solve their own problems. According to an article from the National Association of School Psychologists, Motivating Learning in Young Children:

Preschoolers (age 3-5 years) are beginning to be more involved with verbal problem solving skills. They direct their own learning through speech and use vocal communication to direct their own behavior to solve problems. Young children are often heard talking themselves through a series of actions that lead to the solution of a problem. As children get older, this “talking out loud” will become an internal monologue. This newly developing ability to problem solve is the basis for motivation at this stage. Having the self confidence to know that one can solve a problem motivates the learner to accept other new and challenging situations, which in turn lead to greater learning.

Think about your own methods in working through a series of complicated steps, like trying to follow driving directions to an unfamiliar location. You turn off the radio, shush the kids, and start mumbling quietly to yourself:

“Okay, that’s 3235, and we want 3340. So it’s going to be on the other side of the str—dammit, I missed it!”

But that problem solving, that normally-internal monologue is based on our use of words, not pictures. We learn in words, we think in words, we solve problems in words.

Don’t get me wrong. I love pictures. I love photographs. I think people like Casey Mullins and Paul D’Andrea take some stunning photos that I’ll never be able to manage </sucking up>. Admittedly there are instances where mere words cannot do justice to the images of certain photos, and I don’t think we should even try.

But pictures can’t tell the entire story. Words can. Or at least do it better. Photos can’t explain, teach, educate, inspire, or persuade the way words can. Even when we see the most poignant or beautiful photos, we still need words to tell us what the photo is. Who’s in that photo? Where was it taken? What was he thinking when you took it?

What do you think? Do words conquer all? Is the pen mightier than the lens? Or are we visual people who gather and process information by what we see, not what we read? Leave your comments (or photos).

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. […] I’ve said before, a word is worth a thousand pictures. A picture of a baby has a different context and meaning for me than it does for you. Pin a picture […]

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