Words mean things

‘Bored,’ ‘winnow’ and ‘yokefellow’: what they mean to me

In the Manitoban office, scrawled with red EXPO marker upon a gigantic white board, looms a very important clause: “Words mean things.”

From this, I glean inspiration. As somebody on the verge of graduating with a degree in English literature, I’m staking my vocational future on words. In this sense, I’m very glad they mean things. Although, I’m more pleased still that they foster meaning.

Words are the tools with which we make sense of everything by exploring and expressing what things mean to us. They are the necessary apparatus through which we share ideas.

To illustrate this wonderful process, I will list three words and extrapolate meaning from them as a trio: “bored,” “winnow” and “yokefellow.” Through the demanding process of interpretation, the reader will gather a form of my meaning. The reader is, of course, under no obligation to agree with the meanings I derive. I do not intend this editorial to be an exhortation or treatise, and certainly not a pulpit from which to moralize.


The definition of the adjective “bored,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is to be in a “state of being [that is] weary and restless through lack of interest.” Historically, however, the word has roots as a verb. For a long time, to “bore” something has meant to pierce it. As the Online Etymological Dictionary points out, to be “bored” is to be “pierced, perforated, cylindrically hollow.” In other words, to be “bored” is to be empty.

With the verb in mind, the contemporary meaning of “bored” can be varied, meaning a lack of interest and connoting a fundamental lack.

In this sense, when we say we are “bored,” we are also saying, we are “aimless.” Indeed, we are much closer to echoing Hamlet’s lament, “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” than we might think.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard seems to have thought of boredom in this way too. To be “bored,” he thought, indicated an absence of meaning in one’s own life.

Being “bored” is uncomfortable, then, because it is a state in which we, as individuals, feel purposeless.

Nevertheless, the fact that we are “bored,” and seek to fill our emptiness implies that we can be un-bored, or purpose-filled.


According to Merriam-Webster, to “winnow” is to “separate or sift,” to “narrow or reduce.”

Winnowing is an agricultural practice whereby chaff is separated from edible grains or seeds. It was a favourite metaphor of the authors of the Hebrew Bible, and now I pick it up again.

To un-bore ourselves, to find meaning, we must “winnow” our lives, sifting what matters from what does not. Through this winnowing process, we form a telos, a goal, a purpose.

Winnowing is not an easy task. It takes courage and lots of introspection. Indeed, to quote Kierkegaard, “there is nothing […] which every [one] is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much [one] is capable of.”

It’s much easier to take the chaff and grain together. Likewise, it’s more comfortable to pedal along with our trivial lives as they are than it is to explore what we might become after discarding a little chaff.

Before we set out to do and become, however, we must first discern what it is that’s worth doing and what type of person it is worth becoming. To “winnow” is to do just this.

Naturally, we will have differing opinions about what our goal should be, yet we must sift diligently to find out if our telos is a genuinely important one. It may change over time, but that is part of the winnowing process.

Personally, as I’ll explore in the next section, I feel selfless relationships are the most important telos.


According to Merriam-Webster, a “yokefellow” is a “close companion.” And a “yoke” is “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.”

This is a delicious metaphor, for a “yokefellow” then becomes someone to whom we are joined, striving forward. They share a mutual load and help us pull it.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes, “everyone of us is responsible for everyone else.” This is a profound insight that begs a lifetime of contemplation. Nevertheless, in the spirit of this editorial, it means that we are all each other’s “yokefellow.” As humans, we are global yokefellows, pulling together the cart of flourishing and abundance, bonded by the yoke of existence.

We often want to pull the cart closer to ourselves, however.

Every time we strain on the yoke by pursuing our own materialistic and covetous desires, or by engaging in the will to power, we imbalance and topple the cart, harming our “yokefellow.”

Inversely, when we give ourselves to each other, when we invest in the telos of relationships by pulling the cart, not for our own prosperity, but for our “yokefellows,” we not only generate global flourishing and abundance, but also un-bore ourselves, for we gain a fulfilling purpose — the purpose of filling the other.

Indeed, while difficult to understand, desiring what is best for our “yokefellow,” is, I think, the best way to ensure we also receive what is best for us, for it fulfills us. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, we become taller when we bow.

Still, the moment we see an opportunity to pull the cart of flourishing and abundance toward us, we seldom refrain.

It is difficult to see that selflessness is the best way to live because, in general, we conduct our lives under the premise that flourishing and abundance are scarce.

Adam Smith’s quote, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their […] own self-interest,” suggests that a scarcity mindset is inherent, and that the only way to placate it is to cater to it.

However, I cannot believe that flourishing and abundance are in scarcity, for we can spread flourishing and abundance when we adopt selfless postures toward our yokefellows. Flourishing and abundance are not things to seize — they are things to give.

For example, if we are benevolent to the baker, might they be benevolent to us? Maybe the brewer and butcher will be as callous as ever, but that is no justification to withhold benevolence. How can more selfishness remedy a selfishness problem?

Billions of humans inhabit the planet. Therefore, through the telos of relationships, opportunities to spread flourishing and abundance are billionfold.