Thanks a lot,” the man behind the postal counter said to the person in front of me. The clerk, Jon, had seen me in line and was hoping I would overhear him. When it was my turn, I said hello to Jon, who had been a student of mine when I taught high school in the 1980s.

“Did you notice what I said to her?” Jon asked. “I told her, ‘Thanks a lot.’” Sensing that I was missing his point, he explained, “Remember what you told us about the term a lot? You said a lot was a piece of land, not a phrase to use instead of much.”

Astounding! An English lesson from a quarter-century before had stuck with Jon through all those years. That speaks clearly to us of the importance of what we say to others. It also backs up one of my favorite lines by poet Emily Dickinson: “A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”

The words we say may have long-term consequences. Our comments, our compliments, and even our harsh criticisms may stick with the hearer for decades.

No wonder Scripture says, “He who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). The words we speak today live on. Let’s make sure they come from “the tongue of the righteous” (v.20).