Friday, October 31, 2014

On Listening, Inspired by an Anagram

October 2014
"The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent." --Alfred Brendel

Listen and silent. Two different words with the same letters, rearranged. An example of an anagram (anagram (n): "a word, phrase or sentence formed from another by rearranging its letters") but more unique than most. Most anagrams are somewhat silly--word play, word games, word puzzles--but in this case one that goes a little deeper. As in, what does it take to really listen? And why are good listening skills important?

I saw the above quote on a church sign. Looking for information on where the quote came from, I came across an interesting article on Deb Sofield's blog: Listen and Silent are Spelled with the Same Letters--Coincidence? in which she uses Brendel's quote to illustrate the art of listening. Seemed insightful to me--thought I'd share some highlights.

"It hit me," Deb writes, "that listen and silent are an anagram, they have the same letters, but creating different words, and what is interesting is that these two words, in my opinion, have the same value when it comes to their true meaning...(and) the power of listening is probably one of the most underrated skills we learn as kids. Everyone wants to talk and be heard, but it seems to me that so few know how to be silent and listen."

She continues with three reasons why we need to work on being better listeners:

1. People need to know that their words matter.
2. People need to know that you listen and you hear them.
3. Perhaps the hardest part of listening is to do so without judgement.

Timely reminders for me, all because of a chance glance at an anagram! Now how can I improve my listening skills in personal relationships? And might the principles also apply to getting to know these characters I'm wrestling with in my story? At the same time, might my character need someone to listen to her? Now there's a thought. Hmmmm...

What words of wisdom have you chanced upon lately? Do you have a favorite anagram?


  1. Sorry, no words of wisdom. No anagrams either. But I do like your idea of "listening" to characters. Lots of writers say their characters drive the story, which would be related to that listening process. So - maybe YOUR WORDS are the words of wisdom. :-)

  2. This was though-provoking. I love it that the anagram of "listen" gives the key to how to go about it. In this noisy age, both are skills worth developing. (to listen, to be silent).

    I like your take on applying it to characters in one's fiction, as well. Nice post.

  3. I never noticed that silent and listen had the same letters! Kind of profound when I think about it :). I do listen to my characters, most of the time they want to lead in a direction I hadn't intended but when I listen--they are usually right!

  4. Thanks, Peggy--it's interesting how a quote leads to an article and then a discussion on writing like this one. This is the fun of discovery :-) And the idea of listening to my character is very timely for me. You're right--if our characters drive the story, we'd better be listening to them!

    Elizabeth, glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for stopping by :-)

    I'm like you, Catherine--I never picked up on the silent/listen anagram either until I saw it on a sign. Amazing the connection. That's what I like about playing around with words, there are so many unusual combinations and unique discoveries, and most of the time we totally overlook them :-)

  5. At times, I need to be a better listener with my five year old. She's a big-time talker, but I know it hurts her feelings if, while I'm doing major multitasking, she gets the sense that I'm just saying "Mm-hm, mm-hm," without fully listening.