No word is an island. Words exist in the world as single entities, yes, discrete and unique, each with its own significance. But that significance often is so vast that a word, bereft of other words to surround and limit and define, eludes the mind’s grasp, remains such a massive hunk of sound and sense as to be amorphous — presenting so much form as to be formless. (Cf. Socrates, who had to build a whole world in The Republic trying to define just one word: justice.)
Words shine too brightly in direct light. They need neighbors to refract and reflect, illumining just one aspect, perhaps, of the word’s mass, but one that can be comprehended in the lesser light. With words, it is better often to see through a glass darkly.
Thus the glory of the phrase, the first stage in the growth of word into language, the unit…
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