It is not unusual for a writer to spend considerable time examining a single word for its true meaning and inference. I found myself doing this the other day with the word “profound.” It was either that or walk the dog. I chose to ponder—in depth—the meaning of profound. Hence, once again, a blog is born.
Right away, I thought of an old television show called, Doogie Howser, M.D. It ran for a few years back in the early 1990’s. Doogie was a brainy teenage wonder—a full-fledged doctor no less. He was played by Neil Patrick Harris who is now a much bigger star in a sitcom called, “How I Met Your Mother.” Anyway, at the end of each show, Doogie would sit down at his computer and tap out a brief paragraph about the day’s traumatic events and multi-faceted relationships. As only TV can do, these were always neatly wrapped up within a half-hour episode and there sat Doogie to sum things up for you in case you “didn’t get it.” His last sentence was always most deliberately something profound.
I cannot remember anything especially profound that I have ever said or written. I attempted a few profound witticisms in my children’s book, ABOUT A FARM, but I’m not sure anyone would remember them. This makes me think that something said or written cannot be profound if it is not memorable. After all, isn’t this the principle on which Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is based? Why else would John Bartlett have remembered to include a particular quotation in his collection if it wasn’t profound?
The Encarta Dictionary, provided in Microsoft Word, defines “profound” as “great…showing great understanding…requiring thoughtful study…very deep.” Those definitions seem to be okay. But what isn’t stated is that profoundness does not come easy, at least by its definition I don’t think it does. Flippant remarks are frivolous, sarcasm is not always sincere and poignant may be relative but not necessarily deep. No, if a statement is to be profound, it has a birthing to go through; a process involving greatness, deep thought and understanding. The result doesn’t always have to be historical, serious or super intellectual. I think it has more to do with concept and construction. So, what comes to mind as examples of profound? Well, maybe these are some…
Peter Drucker: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Elvis Presley: “The only thing worse than watching a bad movie is being in one.”
Martin Luther King, Jr: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Albert Einstein: e=mc2
Abraham Lincoln: just about anything he said.
I’m a sucker for profoundness. I think any good writer worth his salt will have a few profound thoughts in his shaker. Hey, was that a profound sentence? Okay, I guess not. It was certainly a contrived one…but that’s a subject for a later blog.
I have found that a profound statement is usually one that ends or concludes other thoughts. It’s the “kicker” of all that precedes it. In one deep thought, it sums up everything that has been presented in a great and understanding way. This is probably why some attorneys become famous for their closing statements presented to the jury. Remember “…if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” That statement by defense attorney Johnny Cochran in the OJ Simpson trial went one step further—it was profound poetry.
I wonder, too, if profound can be used to describe a piece of art, a photograph or a musical selection. Maybe it doesn’t have to be something said or written. Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World comes to mind, or the Apollo picture of Earth as seen from the Moon. And, what about almost any symphony by Beethoven, especially the 5th and 9th? I am not sure if there is a better word than profound to describe these items and many others similar.
If you are an English teacher, I suggest you might consider “Write Something Profound” as a homework assignment for your students. It would be interesting to see what they come up with.
One other profound notion I just now thought of… While something profound involves deep thinking and understanding, is it possible that its creation can be spontaneous? Can it sort of suddenly ooze out of you and plop itself down in front of everybody. What happened to deep thought and great understanding–that takes time, doesn’t it? Does that mean there does not have to be much forethought to the process? Profound thinking may simply come naturally and instantaneously? But then, wouldn’t that be perfunctory? Can something be perfuntorially profound?
I have boxed my blog and myself in. I have wandered and wondered almost aimlessly. Now, I am not quite sure where I am going and what is the point. I have come to a profound conclusion that I have no clear grasp on what is profound and what makes it so. Damn. Where’s Dr. Howser when you need him?
Marc Kuhn is the author of three books. Recently published is an adult historical novel, THE POPE’S STONE. The other two books are for children: NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE…And a bunch of other things you should never do!; and ABOUT A FARM, profound lessons for life regardless of where you live.
All three books are available at amazon.com and each has its own .com website under its title.