My dear friend E was having dinner with a friend of hers last night—a woman who some years back had had a stroke. This woman is well recovered now, but described an interesting phenomenon. When she woke up from the stroke, she had only three words at her disposal:

1) Peter, the name of her son;

2) Chicken, for undisclosed reasons; and

3) a four-letter word beginning with “F” which I cannot print here, really;

Now, a stroke is nothing to laugh at, but apparently this woman found some interest and humor in the three words she was left with, seedlings from which she regrew the English language. And the words do seem to survey a spectrum of experience, even if one really would prefer not to construct a sentence out of them.

It got me to thinking: if I had only three words, if I could only speak three words, which would I choose? I meditated over my darkly brewed Blue Bottle Coffee. After a few minutes, it seemed clear:

1) Venti;

2) Condom;

3) Risotto

… the first simply so I could demonstrate to the uncaring world of Starbucks the correct pronunciation; the second being a plea for responsibility in the modern world, and hypothetically useful for other situations; and finally number three is for lunches and dinners. I’d be forced to resort to gestures for breakfasts but I’m not so talkative in the morning anyway.

My friend Cory, ever the pragmatist, hesitated not at all; he chose his three words with tremendous alacrity:

1) I (so narcissistic!);

2) Can’t;

3) Talk

… which, if it doesn’t really get you any farther than you started, at least gets you out of a great many awkward social situations (which may be what any of us really wants out of life, anyway!)

What would your 3 words be? I eagerly await submissions.

My friend Cory also feels, by the way, that this entire post is utterly tasteless, and beneath contempt. True: stroke victims cannot choose their words. But I suggest we should use humor to transcend the tragic and to contemplate the limitations and powers of language. Sometimes, with 186,000 words at our disposal, it would be better if we only had 3. I am sure regular readers of Think Denk will wholeheartedly agree.

Cory’s such a stick in the mud.

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  1. Tim
    Posted August 3, 2007 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    This may very quickly descend into a parody of James Lipton’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio” end-of-show questions. But with that awkward caveat I would have to choose:
    1. Yes (If you can’t say much, at least be positive)
    2. Help (Just in case…)
    3. Celcius (Simply because it is my favorite word to say outloud. Try it.)

  2. Posted August 3, 2007 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    As an introverted social phobic, my three would be:

    1) Leave
    2) Me (so narcissitic!)
    3) Alone

  3. Florestan
    Posted August 3, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    1) Ich
    2) bin
    3) AMERICAN!

    Die Leuten mussen mir glauben, weil ich nur deutsch sprechen koennen. Selbsverstaendlich!
    1) Schumann
    2) Boesendoerfer
    3) Ruhe!

  4. Alessandra
    Posted August 3, 2007 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    1) Jeremy
    2) Marry
    3) Me

    I think these are the most important words to include in my vocabulary. Without them life would be nothing! 🙂

    (P.S. The order is crucial.)

  5. Posted August 3, 2007 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    1) Indeed
    2) dialectical
    3) Cheesburger

  6. anonyme
    Posted August 4, 2007 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    I’m completely in love with you…

  7. Posted August 4, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    1) Watch

    2) This

    3) Space

  8. Brent
    Posted August 4, 2007 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    1. Hungry. I assume if I were to be fed, a drink would be offered, so the ability to say ‘thirsty’ would be unnecessary. Conversely, if I were only thirsty, I wouldn’t be opposed to eating something first….
    3.Denk. Friends would know this was only available on-line, and from this site I could ask them to access the rest of the web for me by a series of yes/no headshakes, my own binary code.

    True story: my paternal grandfather had a stroke and for the last 2 years of his life was only able to say 3 words,”pretty little girl” which my family always assumed was a reference to my oldest sister, who was just 2 or 3 years old at the time.

  9. Posted August 4, 2007 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, if I wanted to be logical about it, my 3 words would be:
    1. yes
    2. no
    3. know

    (I thought it would be cheating to use both homonymal uses of “no/know”)

    But that way, I would be able to answer yes or no questions, and say that “I no know” if it was not a yes or no question, in the hopes someone would ask me such.

  10. Joe
    Posted August 5, 2007 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Venti. Condom. Risotto.

    Do you remember the Seinfeld when George’s girlfriend seemed lukewarm about sex, but moaned while eating a good risotto?

    Therefore, I think all 3 words can be tied into your friend’s unwritten 3rd word. The venti condom causing a moan like one savoring a good risotto.

    My 3 would be

    1) Cookie
    2) Wine
    3) Nap

    Three things that make life worth living.

  11. MJ
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of my late grandma’s hearing aid test. A mild, sweet woman, she was becoming deaf and was also more that a little dotty, so every test word spoken to her was repeated (heard and repeated?) by her as “GUNS” or “[racial epithet, not the N word].” My poor not-dotty mother nearly died of embarassment, but I think the little old lady yelling “GUNS” is pretty funny.

    I’ll take a cookie, wine and a nap right now.

  12. Posted August 6, 2007 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    1) passion – pretty much summing up my life philosophy on everything

    2) finale – if i can’t sing music (since i wouldn’t know any of the words), the least i can do is compose it

    3) androgynous – pretty much pointless, other than the fact that it is an awesome word and i would find much pleasure in saying it all the time.

  13. Emily
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ve found that wild gesticulation speaks volumes. Although, if forced to choose just 3 words, I would likely pick them not for practical but rather aesthetic value—-like little Tourettian accents. Schlep, phlegmon (who ever thought “pus ball” could sound so elegant), and dingo come to mind.

  14. Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    1) please (a good word to have, which can be used alone or with the following two)
    2) provide
    3) reeds

  15. nathan
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 6:00 pm | Permalink


    If I’m ever really felled by a stroke, I want to be able to convey those things to my poor keepers.

  16. les
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    All I can think of now is the release of your new CD w/ Joshua Bell. I’m very excited to listen to the violin sonata you and Josh recorded.

    It’s available pre-order on Amazon w/ very nice photo. It said to be released next month.

    So, make three words out of it!

  17. Isa
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I could live with Jeremy’s choice, however am tempted to switch #2 to Pinot Grigio, after a couple of those I would be creative enough to sign for the rest.

  18. Posted August 16, 2007 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    1. covered
    2. in
    3. bees

  19. paula
    Posted August 18, 2007 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    1. lieblich
    2. klagend!
    3. ein…….

  20. paula
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    My comment is awaiting…..what??

  21. paula
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    ein… ein…..

  22. Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Wild. Turkey. Neat.

  23. allbetsareoff
    Posted August 30, 2007 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of the dinner party exchange between a society lady and the famously taciturn Calvin Coolidge.

    “Mr. President, I have a bet with a friend that I can get you to say more than three words…”

    “You lose.”

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