In Computer Science, a word is generally 16 bits. On some lower processors used in Electrical Engineering, a word can be 10, 12, or 14 bits as well. 32-bit data elements are instead referred to as double word (Intel) or long word (Motorola, 68k series). 64-bit elements do not have a name that I am aware of, and 128-bit (16-byte) elements have been called paragraphs on some systems. A much looser term, page, can mean anywhere from 16k to many megabytes. It is, however, useful to know the specific meaning of page for a system you are programming on, as it is often a hardware efficiency issue. (The last statement applies to low-level languages only, as otherwise you wouldn't have much control over hardware efficiency anyway.)

Word can be both a question and an affirmation. If someone says something which you don't believe or would like further confirmation of you can say "word?" This translates to "are you seious"

It can also be used as the affirmation. Here is a sample conversation:
person A: I robbed a bank today
person B: word? (used as a question)
person A: word. (used as confirmation of truth)
see also: for real.
A man's (or woman's) word is a peculiar sort of thing. When you "give your word" that something is true, or that something will be done, then you are basically swearing your entire honor that it is, or will be, so.

As long as you don't fail, your word is the most valuable thing you can give. But once you've given your word and failed, your word becomes worthless. Like innocence, once lost, your word can never be recovered.

It's likely that giving his word is what an atheist would do instead of swearing a vow.

In modern computer science, a word generally refers to the number of bits a particular type of hardware is most comfortable performing operations on. This is almost always the same as the width of the CPU's integer and address registers, so 32-bit processors like the Pentium and the G4 have 32-bit words and the 64-bit Itanium and UltraSPARC have 64-bit words. The AltiVec-enhanced G4 has 32-bit words despite the fact that it has some 128-bit registers and can perform some special operations 128 bits at a time, since the majority of the processor is still 32-bit.

Thus, a C compiler will usually allocate a word of memory for each int.

To apply this usage historically, an example that bends the rule would be the Z80. The Z80 is an 8-bit processor with 8-bit words, even though it had some 16-bit registers (each made up of two 8-bit registers) and could do 16-bit arithmatic: it was much faster doing 8-bit operations.

In a religious context The Word often refers to either the will or force of a divine entity and is usually used in a metaphysical context describing events that lead to the creation of the world.

However many believe that the context of The Word refers not to the divine entity itself but possibly to servants of that entity.

In writing, we put spaces between our words, but we don't in speech. Language is continuous, yet we feel it should be clearly divisible into segments. We call these segments "words", but in linguistics the term has no precise meaning, because there are different ways of dividing up an utterance.

Disregard the written or graphic words for now and consider other levels of linguistic structure.

Morphology studies the pieces of words that have a distinct function: in The children are playing there are six morphs, since -ren marks plural and -ing marks continuous. The morph -ren is one realization of a plural morpheme, which also includes the more usual -s, -es. Morphemes may be regarded as "morphological words".

Semantics studies meanings. In The children are playing only two morphemes, child and play, are fully meaningful. The other four are essentially grammatical. Play and playing are different forms of the same "semantic word": you wouldn't find playing listed separately in a dictionary. A semantic word is usually called a lexical item or a lexeme. They belong to open-ended classes like noun, adjective, or verb; whereas grammatical elements with very little semantic content, like the and -ing, belong to closed classes with few members.

A compound like chief inspector consists of two lexical items linked together, but the linkage may become tight enough that they can be regarded as a single lexical item, with its own place in the dictionary: head master, head-master, headmaster, or vacuum cleaner, or even magnetic resonance imaging. Semantically, each of these denotes a single thing.

Phonology studies how the sounds of the language are put together. In our example there are two stressed syllables, and the others are unstressed. Being unstressed doesn't imply an element isn't a word: we would call the a word because it can be greatly separated from children by other, stressed, words, as can are and playing: e.g. The very untidy children are still playing. But in another language, such as Arabic or Hebrew or Swedish or Romanian, the definite article is joined to the noun.

In French, we write je ne le vois pas 'I can't see it', but the three grammatical elements are not separate in pronunciation: phonologically, it's only two words jenelevois pas. Bantu languages have a very similar way of arranging morphemes on the front of verbs, but the custom in most of them is to write it all as one word. The French (and Bantu) morphemes are inseparable, unlike English the: you can't use je by itself. Elements like this, treated as words in some respects but not fully independent phonological words, are called clitics.

In Japanese the subject particle ga is pronounced [Na] (= nga). In romanization we write it as a separate word, but apart from this particle, the ng pronunciation of g only occurs inside words. So phonologically, this is a suffix rather than a word.

Syntax studies the arrangement of words (or rather morphemes) in the sentence. A "syntactic word" would therefore be something that holds together as a unit and can be moved around in larger structures. The English possessive marker 's is a fully independent word at the syntactic level, unlike case endings in most languages: if a man has a daughter, 's looks like a case ending in the man's daughter, but less so in the man in black's daughter or even the man I met in the pub last night's daughter.

Mostly, these concepts will overlap enough that we can continue to talk about words without specifying the level of description. In European languages the written word spacing is adequate. But in unfamiliar and unwritten languages, with no prior guide, there is no definite need to decide whether a morph is or is not a separate word: you just describe how it behaves at various levels.

The word, whatever kind it is, is a unit of structure of language. It is at an intermediate level, between utterances and their meanings and implications at one end of a scale, and phonetics and phonology on the other end. A word is typically something that has an idiosyncratic meaning, not predictable from its parts; though idioms also have that property, such as 'put up with' or 'kick the bucket', and compound words often have predictable meanings. It is only a level of structure: it is not an atom from which the rest of language is built up. Languages are not collections of words.

Hmmmm. Looks like I'm treading on Gritchka's footsteps. It's for the best!

Word up, yo.

In English 'word' can have many meanings. There's the written word and the spoken word, an of course there's The Word.


Examining language has been a science since Ancient times : grammar, syntax, rhetoric, etc. were all invented and rationalized by the Ancient Greeks. But linguistics is a young field. Up until then, philology focused on the roots of words, etymology, the evolution of a language, etc. : it was therefore a descriptive study.

The Swiss Ferdinand de Saussure pioneered the field of linguistics(1) at the start of the 20th century. He establishes that language is a social fact and a system of differences, which must be distinguished from the spoken word (as in speech), which is each person's use of the language.

Saussure also points out the twofold nature of words as linguistic signs, made up of a signifier, which is the sound and spelling of the word, and a signified, which is the concept, what the word means. The sign is arbitrary: there is no reason for such or such signifier to be paired up with such or such signified. The signified < soy > will have "soy" as its signifier in English, "soja" in French, "そい" in Japanese, etc. However, the signifier-signified pairing is unbreakable. It is their unity that makes the word.

Several modern linguists like Jacques Derrida have questioned this simplistic signifier-signified, yin yang type makeup of the sign. They argue that this suggests that the signified exists independently of the signifier, as an universal idea that we simply apply different phonetic labels to, something which they disagree with. On the other hand, people like Noam Chomsky (now I've mentioned the hip crowd of contemporary linguistics, yay) claim that the underlying structure of language is the same in all humans, and that there are certain universal similarities among all natural languages because of this.

I am the word

"The word is what separates man of the animals" is how JayJay Rousseau opens his Essay on the Origin of Language. He does not deny that there is communication between animals, but man only has the use of words. While animals communicate, they do not build a message from an other message. When they receive an information they act according to it and dismiss it. The nature of man's words enables it to be a substitute for actual experience that can be endlessly retransmitted through time and space.(2)

The word is man's first tool when faced with the world he lives in, and not just by assigning labels (signifier) to things (signified). Much more importantly, the word serves to put a distance between man and the world he lives in, between the signified and the one who speaks the signifier. This gap is what allows us to comprehend (cum prehendere, to take with). And it is this gap which Rousseau criticizes:

Our Words

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.(3)

It is with words that the first land owner creates property : his words are a social reality which he overlays over Nature's reality. This field isn't a piece of mother nature anymore, it is now private property. Words allow to create concepts like property and create a gap which is now impossible to bridge between nature and the social world of men. The symbolic words of the first land owner allow him to fake reality, to replace nature's reality with a social reality.

Words are the tool of social interaction. They allow to communicate, but the arbitrary signs that make up the language make words an unauthentic means of relating to an other human being. Communication, impossible without words, is opposed to communion, unthinkable through words.

My Words

As a baby, we all learn the language of our parents and of their parents: of our country. Je suis né Français et baptisé par la langue de Molière. Our nation's language is the very first social institution we encounter. However, the realization that we are different and the belief that we have a unique voice make us look for a way to communicate in a way that is our own. How can I really tell you that I love you in the totally unique way that is my own, by using the words millions of other people use? This poses the challenge of using the words of everyone to say things which are only mine. The word (as in spoken word, speech) becomes the purely personal part of the language.

The fact that signs are arbitrary are a form of constraint. This is what makes them different from symbols. With a symbol, the signified can be deduced from the signifier through a logical link between the two. A scale symbolizes justice when I see in the image of a scale (signifier) the idea of weighing, of balance and of equilibrium which is inherent to justice (signified). This is what the symbolist poets of the 19th century understood: their goal was to transform signs into symbols, and thereby to draw men out of their deaf indifference. The poet becomes the interpret to his Delphic muse

His Master's Voice

The poets' artistic intuition convinced them that words are hardly innocent. Indeed, they are the first constraint we experience, a social constraint. Our words are the words of our Nation, and it is its words that make a Nation. This is Fichte's famous idea. While Napoleon's victorious troops were marching in Berlin, he invented(4) pan-Germanism with the concept that the German Nation is made up of everyone who speaks German, and damn what History and Politics have to say about it.

But beyond the aspect of speaking the language of such or such Nation, we too easily forget that power is hiding in every word. As French structuralist semiologist Roland Barthes(5) pointed out, "We do not see the power hidden in language because we forget that every language is a system and that every system is oppressive." The whole of language not only imposes a certain syntaxic order, but forces me to say things a certain way. For instance, English deprives me of the possibility to add a nuance to my relationship with other persons with you serving both as a singular and plural pronoun. The Russian aristocrats from War and Peace largely spoke French not only because it was the lingua franca (literally) of Europe but also because the presence of tu (singular, intimate) and vous (plural, respectful) allowed them to further stratify the way they addressed each other, deciding that the Russian pronouns were either too formal, or not enough.

Language attaches me to this "authority of assertion," as Barthes put it, but also forces me to repeat, to repeat other people's words, everybody's words. To extract spoken word from language is a tremendous effort because of its oppressive nature.

When people think about 1984 coming to life they think about Big Brother. We see Big Brother come to life all the time. Of course we're going to see him : if you call any database or organisation which threatens to do something to privacy or freedom "Big Brother", then Big Brother is certainly all around us. But is there really a Big Brother like in the book, even threatening to happen? Of course not.

What is threatening to come to life is Newspeak. This is what Orwell understood, and feared, and this is the true genius of 1984. Big Brother's best bet to enslave us all isn't the cameras everywhere and the police or even the Two Minutes Hate. Every system can (and will) be overthrown, but what happens when those most likely to overthrow it don't know how to do it? Or rather, don't know that it's possible? How to make them not know what "overthrow" means? Simple: remove the word. The concept will go. Remove everything from the language that is not Big Brother, and Big Brother will be all that they can understand, more obvious and inescapable than gravity. Dumbify the language and you will simplify their minds. Now compare Newspeak and this AOL/SMS/l33tsp33k we are subjected to. How much clear thought do you think someone who mixes up "you're" and "your" can have? How about not knowing the difference between "their", "there" and "they're"? What kind of citizen can such a person be, how does he view the society he lives in and his part in it? He doesn't!

So what can we do to resist? What can we do to escape the tyranny of words and of language? Is the only way out silence? Is our only refuge a blank page and stubborn mutism? No, we can set up a barrier: we can resist through literature.

This redeeming cheat, this dodge, this magnificent decoy, which allows to conceive language outside of power, in the splendor of a permanent revolution of language, I call it, for one: literature.(5)

Literature "cheats language" in that it strives to use it each time in a unique, unexpected way. Metaphors, symbols and poetic images force the words to leap to an other, new meaning. The syntax is bent, efficiency stops being the top priority. Furthermore, the best way to free all speech from the power of words is to bend it, break it, fracture it, to free it from any premeditation. In other words, create for the reader and the listener clefts in which they can sneak their own interpretation.


  1. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, 1916.
  2. See Karl von Frisch's work on honeybees and Émile Benveniste's article "Animal Communication and Human Language."
  3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality among Men, 1754, Part II.
  4. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, 1807-1808.
  5. Roland Barthes, The Lesson, 1977.

Word (?), n. [AS. word; akin to OFries. & OS. word, D. woord, G. wort, Icel. orð, Sw. & Dan. ord, Goth. waørd, OPruss. wirds, Lith. vardas a name, L. verbum a word; or perhaps to Gr. "rh`twr an orator. Cf. Verb.]


The spoken sign of a conception or an idea; an articulate or vocal sound, or a combination of articulate and vocal sounds, uttered by the human voice, and by custom expressing an idea or ideas; a single component part of human speech or language; a constituent part of a sentence; a term; a vocable.

"A glutton of words."

Piers Plowman.

You cram these words into mine ears, against The stomach of my sense. Shak.

Amongst men who confound their ideas with words, there must be endless disputes. Locke.


Hence, the written or printed character, or combination of characters, expressing such a term; as, the words on a page.

3. pl.

Talk; discourse; speech; language.

Why should calamity be full of words? Shak.

Be thy words severe; Sharp as he merits, but the sword forbear. Dryden.


Account; tidings; message; communication; information; -- used only in the singular.

I pray you . . . bring me word thither How the world goes. Shak.


Signal; order; command; direction.

Give the word through. Shak.


Language considered as implying the faith or authority of the person who utters it; statement; affirmation; declaration; promise.

Obey thy parents; keep thy word justly. Shak.

I know you brave, and take you at your word. Dryden.

I desire not the reader should take my word. Dryden.

7. pl.

Verbal contention; dispute.

Some words there grew 'twixt Somerset and me. Shak.


A brief remark or observation; an expression; a phrase, clause, or short sentence.

All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Gal. v. 14.

She said; but at the happy word "he lives," My father stooped, re-fathered, o'er my wound. Tennyson.

There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark. Dickens.

By word of mouth, orally; by actual speaking. Boyle. -- Compound word. See under Compound, a. -- Good word, commendation; favorable account. "And gave the harmless fellow a good word." Pope. -- In a word, briefly; to sum up. -- In word, in declaration; in profession. "Let us not love in word, . . . but in deed and in truth." 1 John iii. 8. -- Nuns of the Word Incarnate R. C. Ch., an order of nuns founded in France in 1625, and approved in 1638. The order, which also exists in the United States, was instituted for the purpose of doing honor to the "Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God." -- The word, ∨ The Word. Theol. (a) The gospel message; esp., the Scriptures, as a revelation of God. "Bold to speak the word without fear." Phil. i. 14. (b) The second person in the Trinity before his manifestation in time by the incarnation; among those who reject a Trinity of persons, some one or all of the divine attributes personified. John i. 1. -- To eat one's words, to retract what has been said. -- To have the words for, to speak for; to act as spokesman. [Obs.] "Our host hadde the wordes for us all." Chaucer. -- Word blindness Physiol., inability to understand printed or written words or symbols, although the person affected may be able to see quite well, speak fluently, and write correctly. Landois & Stirling. -- Word deafness Physiol., inability to understand spoken words, though the person affected may hear them and other sounds, and hence is not deaf. -- Word dumbness Physiol., inability to express ideas in verbal language, though the power of speech is unimpaired. -- Word for word, in the exact words; verbatim; literally; exactly; as, to repeat anything word for word. -- Word painting, the act of describing an object fully and vividly by words only, so as to present it clearly to the mind, as if in a picture. -- Word picture, an accurate and vivid description, which presents an object clearly to the mind, as if in a picture. -- Word square, a series of words so arranged that they can be read vertically and horizontally with like results.

Syn. -- See Term.

© Webster 1913.

Word, v. i.

To use words, as in discussion; to argue; to dispute.


© Webster 1913.

Word, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Worded; p. pr. & vb. n. Wording.]


To express in words; to phrase.

The apology for the king is the same, but worded with greater deference to that great prince. Addison.


To ply with words; also, to cause to be by the use of a word or words.




To flatter with words; to cajole.



To word it, to bandy words; to dispute. [Obs.] "To word it with a shrew."


© Webster 1913.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.