A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words?

paul martin lester

original quotation

This is the original "Chinese proverb" from the streetcar advertisement.

The quotation has wrongly been translated as: A Picture Is Worth One Thousand Words.

In fact, the literal translation is: A Picture's Meaning Can Express Ten Thousand Words.

Somehow the phony Chinese proverb over the years has been given the literal meaning that a picture is equivalent to a thousand words setting up a clash between words and pictures in the minds of users of the two. With digital hegemony, visual messages have reasserted their position as an important communication medium, but at the cost of not recognizing the combination of words and pictures as vital in communication. With the correct interpretation of the proverb, words and pictures live in harmony as they are both used equally in order to understand the meaning of any work that uses them both.