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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 19-Oct-07

 


Friday 19-October-07

Word power: England expects and Nelson dies 

Words are powerful little beasties and none more so than in substitute or preparation for battle. 'The pen is mightier than the sword' is a common saying and highlights the power of words over coercion in changing minds.

Changing words in a sentence can change its power to change minds and often when writing I pause and ponder over individual words. An interesting effect can also be gained by changing known phrases. Nelson, before the battle of Trafalgar, sent a flag signal to the English fleet 'England expects every man to do his duty'. As well as being stirring stuff it was a change from the standard phrase 'England is confident that every man will do his duty'. Note the subtle change in effect: confidence and expectation are very similar but the latter is more explicit. There is also a layered attentional effect: as the sailors were expecting 'confident' they thought about this and 'expects', dwelling on what more it might mean. And coming from the much loved and respected Admiral Lord Nelson, they would know that he personally had confidence in them and expected each one to do his duty, even to laying down his life for his lord and country.

Paradoxically, this is what Nelson did. Ignoring requests to take shelter from enemy snipers he stood on the deck where his men could see him and take courage from his example. Perhaps he, too, was moved by the words. When great leaders speak to inspire others they are more effective if they passionately believe what they say. Though Nelson died, the battle was won, history was made, and he was mourned as a national hero.


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