Words Fail Me

This is a recording of Virginia Woolf as published electronically through The Book Bench with The New Yorker. I knew I had stumbled on a treasure when I saw this. Her words continue to inspire me, but there was just something so visceral, so palpable in hearing her speak her own words, listening to her pause and then emphasize certain words, it left me content. The next time a pick up one of her novels, I hope to hear her voice inside my head.

“This is presumed to be the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf. It was recorded on April 29, 1937, as part of a BBC radio broadcast series called “Words Fail Me.” Woolf would have been fifty-five at the time.”

(Partial transcript in this recording)

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations. They have been out and about, on people's lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past.

And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy. Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady's reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid.

They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Although this was recorded over seventy years ago, much of the same is true today. Moreover, we are seeing her notion of creating a new language occurring as we speak. We can easily connect with people worldwide through the web, therefore our language, the rules around the use of this language and how we communicate with one another is constantly evolving. The definitions of the words we use accumulates as we assimilate how other dialects create new words, idioms and slang. Thus the need for an electronic dictionary just to keep up. Thousands of new words are added to our language every year, sadly some are retired also. For fun, a completely wonderful way to waste time, check out the Urban Dictionary.


1) well said
2) said in agreement
3) can be used as a greeting, hey whats up


1..and 2..."Yo u goin to that rocks tanite....word"

3. "word up"

Signing off, I say 'Word, to your mother."


  1. Janet this recording is really inspiring! What an amazing woman Virginia was, and what a strong and imperative voice she had! Thank you muchly for sharing!

    I'd love to invent a whole new language, but who would speak it???? I'm familiar with the Urban Dictionary, I like bringing words to my classroom so students can see how much language is out of the books and conventional dictionaries.

    A particular beautiful part of the recording in my opinion:

    "How can we combine the old words in new others so they survive and so that they create beauty, so they tell the truth?"

    Telling the truth is what I've been trying to do for a long time. I'll never stop doing so.

    All my love from Brazil!
    PS.: I just loved your new profile picture! ;)

  2. I am glad you also enjoyed this. I love when she talks about the marriages of words, and her sentiment to the survival of the old words, making them beautiful and making them tell the truth.

    Like people - "Words belong to eachother."

  3. In short, "words are like women" (my understanding), they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

    And why not!!!!?

    Woolf was a brilliant trailblazer!


  4. Well, Greg, I certainly identify with your sentiments. I welcome change, because it is constant and exciting, painful at times but that is a reminder that I am alive.

    Thankfully, many of Woolf's ideas materialized.


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