Our most important job as writers is—I believe—to make language capable of telling the truth. The essayist, activist, and poet Wendell Berry has written about this idea many times. In 2010, he addressed it in a letter to an English teacher and her class, writing: “By taking up the study of writing … you are assuming consciously … a responsibility for our language. What is that responsibility? I think it is to make words mean what they say. It is to keep our language capable of telling the truth. We live in a time when we are surrounded by language that is glib, thoughtless, pointless, or deliberately false.”
We must reject overly easy, overly familiar images and phrases and push ourselves instead for the slight adjustment that can make a world of difference.
This is what it means to defamiliarize language enough to let it hold truth. If the language is so familiar it washes over us, any truth it contains will be lost.