Words for Word People, Week 2 – “Antiphon”

I should probably write one of these for myself that defines the word “week.”

The word of the week is “antiphon.”

An antiphon is a line of a psalm that is repeated between each of the stanzas, kind of like a single-line chorus. In traditional services, psalms are sung together this way. The cantor, up at the front, sings the antiphon, then extends their arm, inviting everyone else to repeat it. After each of the cantor’s stanzas, all gathered repeat the antiphon.

This is an efficient way to get people to sing together without much rehearsal. Psalms and antiphons. The same line, over and over. The meaning of “The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” evolves throughout the psalm, as each new stanza contributes to and builds upon that original idea. To understand something, we need to hear it repeated in different contexts.

Too many books (and book concepts) lack antiphons. The ideas are lined up neatly, each in their own chapter “box.” But starting another chapter is like starting a new book. The best books say just one thing – there’s only one antiphon, and it’s repeated after every stanza. Every idea hearkens back to the antiphon, every example supports the antiphon, and, as the reader sees the same antiphon again and again, she finally comes to understand what it means.

If you want to write a great book, don’t try to say the right things. Say just one thing.

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