I was driving home from work the other day, and as I pulled up to a stop light, I saw an older fellow, probably around 50, walking home. The golden evening sunlight slanted through the trees and splashed on the cracked sidewalk at his feet, and his shadow cut at the yellow light, waging a picturesque battle of light and dark.

Grey hair hung from his head, and a limp grey mustache decorated his wrinkled features. He wore a faded jean jacket, soiled, but matching the old pants he wore. Battered, well worn boots, into which the care of his feet had been placed, drummed the sidewalk as he moved along it. He carried a battered grey plastic lunch box, with a gritty stainless steel thermos perched perilously on top, nestled between the long handles.

He matched his neighborhood; old, picturesque, friendly. Clapboard houses in yellows and blues, the once vibrant paint now peeling and fading in the sun. Dirty, half melted snow drifts loitered on the sides of the road and on lawns, waiting for the heat of spring and a good chinook to send them on their way.

A picture is worth a thousand words. I miss my camera.

There are, however, a limitless number of pictures within a word. Words are shadows and suggestions--they have a formal element, of course, and a denotation. But the visualization of meaning is in no way rigid. If I say the word "chair" to you it might cause you to think about your grandmother's rocking chair and the way she read to you as a child (isn't that sweet?). Or you might think about the chair in your living room that you've had sex on numerous times when your roomate wasn't around. Or you might imagine that you have fixed in your mind the Platonic form of "chair"--a perfect representation of a chair's very chair-ness.

Only a few examples, of course.

That's why reading is essentially a creative processand (perhaps) why the book is almost always better than the movie on which it is based. :)

This phrase - "A picture is worth a thousand words" was first used in a trade journal of the printing press, "Printer's Ink". Fred Barnard, then editor of the magazine, coined it in 1921, but claimed it was an old chinese proverb, in an attempt to give his words more credibility.

In 1928 he changed the phrase into "one picture...", which was seen as a correction to his original statement. Barnard himself admitted later that the whole thing was something he made up (i.e no proverb), and that he had meant "one picture..." all along. The "a picture..." version stuck in common language, however, and remains with us:

The phrase is now a proverb (ah, the irony) which is known in the majority of the world's languages.

Stevenson, B (1948) The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases. New York: Macmillan

What is the validity of this statement? I mean, really.

Think of how many books have been adapted to the big screen. For the contemporary among us, consider the new Harry Potter movie. Most people can read that book in a day, if they're left alone to do it (I know I read it in about 6 hours). It's just a rough guestimate, but I'd say that book has close to 80,000 words in it- maybe 100K. A motion picture, however, has literally thousands of frames (24 frames per second). If the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is true, then motion pictures should be significantly less exciting than books.

And yet...

J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter movie opened in the U.S. with record-breaking screen counts (over 8,000 screens) and lasts roughly 2 hours.

If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, I wonder where the rest of that book went....

Note: While I read all of the Harry Potter books, I don't consider myself a rabid fan. I was merely using it as an example. I could have just as easily picked Hamlet or The Tommyknockers or any other movie adapted from a book.

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