John Y’s Musings from the Middle: What King Taught Me About Words

Martin Luther King, Jr in his own words.

Historic words that changed a nation and defined an movement one afternoon not too many years ago. Words were MLK Jr’s weaponry.

He proved that the pen can indeed sometimes be mightier than the sword (or gun, or burning cross or fire hose, as the case may be). But only if the words are borne of conviction, selected masterfully, and used in the service of a calling.

Which brings me to my oddest but personally important lessons from MLK Jr.

Years ago when I was in college I read somewhere that MLK Jr used to be caught reading the dictionary. He loved words…and saw early on the power and force verbal persuasion can have on a nation.

It encouraged me to “read” my dictionary. My old college Merriam-Webster dictionary, by the time I finished college, was the one book in my library that left no doubt that the owner had gotten his money’s worth.

I never learned a new word, it seemed, without having to look it up 3, 4 and sometimes 5 times. It was browned, tattered, torn, dog eared, and barely threaded together. And by the time I was ready to buy a new dictionary I had developed a deep love and profound respect for language.

MLK Jr’s example teaches us many things about life, religion and politics. One thing he taught me was that words were worthy of my time to learn–and learn well. And that it was OK to get caught reading the dictionary.


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