Actually, they can. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say something like “words can’t express how much I [fill in the blank]”, but I know I’ve heard it a lot. While it sounds all nice and meaningful, is it really? How many of the people who have said this have actually tried to put it into words? Probably close to zero. So how can you even say that without trying?
In a sense, it is a cop-out of an attempt to express the true feeling. If you truly mean what you say, you’ll have tried your best to express with words, having looked and searched through the dictionary and thesaurus to find more powerful words and phrases, and when you’ve finished and read through your attempt only realize it just can’t come close to truly how you feel, you will then know at least that YOU are unable to use words in a way that expresses how you feel. But, that does not rule out that someone else might be able to use words to accurately express how you feel. Some people are incredible with words and expressions. So to blame words for being unable to express how you feel isn’t even necessarily fair to our language.
The phrase is becoming just another expression that is slowly starting to lose the real power it originally possessed. When we hear it these days, it is like the difference between “I love you” and “I love you a lot”. It does not carry much weight and meaning.
If you really want to help put the meaning back into this phrase, spend the time actually trying to use words to express something, and I don’t mean just sitting down for a couple minutes. Take a while and actually think about it. It may take many drafts. Once you’ve got something that you feel is the best possible way you can express your thoughts with words, if it still feels inadequate, give the writing (or say it) to the person, and only then tell them that what you feel goes beyond that, and you were unable to properly express how you truly feel. This will show them that you’ve tried and that the phrase has proof to be true, and will be far more meaningful to the them.
I certainly recognize that this is a bit of a soapbox post, but the more we inappropriately use words and phrases, the more our language loses it’s true meaning. My view is that we should be thinking about what we are really saying, making sure we mean what we really say.