My guest today is Elysa Hendricks who has written a lovely blog for your pleasure. Now just sit back, read and enjoy.

Elysa Hendricks

640x960AKittenForChristmas_2A picture is worth a thousand words is a familiar saying that refers to the idea that complex stories can be told with just an image, or that an image may be more important or influential than words. Well, as an avid reader and an author I believe that the opposite is also true. Words can paint a thousand pictures.

While a single image allows the viewer to absorb large quantities of information in a glance without blocks of descriptive text, each viewer will see something different. Even a great cover on a book can’t tell the reader the whole story.

So where did the phrase come from?

Opinions vary, but the phrase seems to be American in origin. Beginning in the 1920s the phrase appeared frequently in the US press, particularly in advertising. One of the first uses is from an advertisement for Doan’s Backache Kidney Pills, which included a picture of a man holding his back and the text “Every picture tells a story”. Who married ‘a thousand words’ with ‘picture’ isn’t known. But an early example is from the text of an instructional talk given by the newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club, in March 1911: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

A similar phrase, “One Look is Worth a Thousand Words,” appears in a 1913 newspaper advertisement for the Piqua Auto Supply House of Piqua, OH.

Some believe that the modern use of the phrase stems from an article by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink promoting the effectiveness of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars. The December 8, 1921 issue carries an ad entitled, “One Look is Worth a Thousand Words.”

Another ad by Barnard appeared in the March 10, 1927 issue with the phrase “One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words,” where it is labeled a Chinese proverb. The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Familiar Phrases quotes Barnard as saying he called it “a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously.” Soon after, the proverb would become popularly attributed to Confucius. More recently it has been quoted as “One showing is worth a hundred sayings.”

And let’s not forget the song sung by David Gates of the group Bread in 1971 If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words.

Despite these modern origins, the sentiment has been expressed by earlier writers. The idea that a picture can convey what might take many words to express was voiced by a character in Ivan S. Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons, 1862: “The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book.”

And well before pictures many things were thought to be ‘worth ten thousand words.’

“One timely deed is worth ten thousand words” – The Works of Mr. James Thomson, 1802.

“That tear, good girl, is worth ten thousand words” – The Trust: A Comedy, in Five Acts, 1808.

“One fact, well understood by observation and well guided development, is worth a thousand times more than a thousand words” – The American Journal of Education, 1858.

Though it’s true a picture can convey large quantities of information, if you took away the words and sound from TV shows, and movies you most likely wouldn’t know what was going on. But leave the words and sounds without the images and you’ll probably get the story being told. Even comic books have words to enhance the story being told in pictures.

On a side note – a pet peeve – for many movies I have to turn on the close captioning because the dialogue is buried under explosions and background music. Of course, with some of those types of movies the characters don’t have a lot to say worth hearing anyway.

Take away the words from most commercials and you’ll have a hard time figuring out what’s being advertised, which might be a good thing. I usually mute the TV during commercials so I can read a few pages in a book.

Human beings began with pictures. Cavemen painted pictures of their hunts on cave walls, but realized they couldn’t depict everything they wanted in simple pictures, so they developed language to tell their stories.

Narrative is important. Whether you do it through pictures or words, telling the story is what counts. If pictures could tell the whole story, books would become obsolete. Heck, they would have never been invented. That’s not to diminish the power of a good visual. A good cover can hook a reader, but it’s the words inside that must paint the pictures in her mind.

How would you like your story told, with a thousand words or with one picture?


Elysa Hendricks is 5’6″ tall. She has curly hair and brown eyes. She’s an author, a wife, a mother and a daughter. Everything else is subject to change without notice. Her “real” life is basic beige. She saves all the excitement and adventure for the characters in her books. But if you’d like to know more about her, you can find her on her web site: http://www.elysahendricks.com or hanging out (way too much) on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elysa-Hendricks-Author/137316289643103


A pounding from the front of the pet store startled Dani.

“Travis!” A deep voice shouted.

“That’s my dad. He sounds really mad.” Kitten in his arms Travis jumped off the chair and rushed over to Dani’s side.

“He sounds scared, not mad.” At least she hoped the man was just worried and not angry. The last thing she needed was to confront an enraged parent. “Let’s go let him in.” She headed toward the front of the store.

Travis backed away. “I’ll wait here with Suzy.” He clutched the now waking kitten to his chest.

She didn’t know enough about kids to tell if Travis was really afraid of his father or just feeling guilty for running off. Her head ached, a lingering effect from the head injuries she’d sustained in the accident. The doctors had warned her that it would be months yet before she regained her energy. Her limp would probably never disappear. Torn between wanting to reassure the boy, and wanting the pounding and shouting to stop, with a sigh she went to the door.

Fist raised to pound the door again, a man stood outside. The brim of his hat hid most of his face, but what she could see made her forget the throbbing behind her eyes and the discomfort in her knee. Dark stubble covered his taut, square jaw line. His hair, a tad darker than his son’s corn-stalk gold, brushed the collar of his buckskin jacket. Dressed in faded jeans and work boots he looked like something out of an old western movie.

Against her better judgment she rushed to open the door. On a blast of cold, snowy air the man stormed into the store. She struggled to close the door. From behind and around her he pushed it shut. Trapped between the cold glass and his hard frame she shivered. Not from a chill, but rather from the promise of heat.

Images of them naked, wrapped in a passionate embrace danced through her head. His mouth against hers, hot and demanding. His weather-darkened hands caressing her still hospital pale flesh.

Not in the two years since Gerald had died had she felt even a flicker of interest in a man. Why did this stranger stir that part of her she thought she’d buried with her fiancé?

When he stepped back, she shook off her bizarre thoughts and turned to face him. With the scars marring her body there was no way she’d ever get naked with any man.

“Sorry for the commotion. I’m Jackson Connor. I’m looking for my son, Travis. He wandered off. Have you seen him?”

Here are the buy links for A KITTEN FOR CHRISTMAS:


6 thoughts on “WORDS CAN PAINT A THOUSAND PICTURES by Elysa Hendricks

  1. Great post. I always enjoy learning interesting facts about our language and quotes.
    Thanks Elysa for sharing. Love the cover of your Christmas story. Looks like my kind of story.

    • Sandy,
      Thanks. I’ve always been fascinated with words. Guess that’s why I talk a lot and became a writer. 🙂 A KITTEN FOR CHRISTMAS was inspired by the year I wanted (and didn’t get) a kitten for Christmas. Fortunately for my mother I didn’t go looking for one during a snow storm. 🙂


  2. Great post, Elysa. Like you, I have to turn on closed captioning to understand what characters are saying amidst the rest of the “noise” in a movie. As much as I like movies (pictures), I like words better because my imagination “paints” the pictures the words invoke. Best wishes on Kitten. Sounds like a cute story.

  3. Great post. I prefer a story to be told in words…like 85,000 words! But often a picture will spark the story. I love people watching as I make up a story for each individual I find interesting. I loved hearing the history of the phrase as I never really did give that much thought. But the most important? Great excerpt and best of luck with it 🙂

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