Three and a half years ago I wrote of my love of the English language and my general disgust of this post text/tweet, shortcut world of communication. I was disenchanted then. If you’re keeping score at home, newsflash — it has gotten worse. I have always been enamored with the great orators in the world; great leaders with powerful speeches and great literature. With fewer and fewer exceptions to the rule, we live in a time where there is a dwindling number of people with a capacious lexicon. (big vocabulary 😉) So, for those of you who love the English language, think back to why, or when that moment was for you. Growing up, it was a common occurrence at my house to watch the president speak on television. In retrospect, that is likely because speeches preempted all network shows, and we didn’t have much else to switch to, or a DVR, or Netflix, or 900 channels of alternatives. So, we watched the president, whomever it was. There was something empowering or comforting that I extracted from those speeches. And a bonus night might include the occasional awe inspiring instant. Content aside, it was the delivery of the message that affected me.
Flash forward to today. And I can NOT emphasize this enough — CONTENT ASIDE — we have a president with (according to the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale and more than two dozen other common tests analyzing English language difficulty levels) communicates at the lowest level of the last 15 presidents. Let the fact that the President of the United States speaks at a forth grade level settle in for a second.
I am just going to leave it at this — I personally believe that is a dreadful role model.
Ok. I wrote this in order to re-post the following 3.5 year old blog about English and how absolutely remarkable and expansive the English language is. How, when utilized in all its magnificent glory, can be a work of art to the ear. In reading again, my post from 2014, I can only say I still feel the same way. “Use your words.” Most native English speaking adults use a range of 20,000 – 35,000 words. But according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we have 171,476 words in current use to choose from. I think we can do better. In fact, it’s incontrovertible that we can.
Posted on September 29, 2014 by Red (aka:DDJ)
I have been speaking English the better part of my life. In fact, I have been speaking it as far back as I can remember. Some might think I speak it too much. But that doesn’t stop me. 🙂 I love ENGLISH. This may or may not be the oft heard rallying cry of someone who loves their birth language. Possibly, it is the cheer of someone who watches regularly the bastardization of a magnificent language behest with the promise to make you sound smarter than you are. I am not an expert of languages nor a true grammarian. What I am is someone who is baffled at the laziness of a person who when presented with the opportunity to use the word ‘adorable’—instead goes with ‘adorbs’. Yes, this happens. Something akin to this happens so often that these types of shortcuts are considered acceptable. (Not by me, of course.) I am not here—necessarily—to criticize the sometimes unrecognizable words that make up conversation and text today. That would take far greater time than I have and likely more patience. So WHY do I love English—you ask? Oh… because I think it’s better than other languages. There, I said it. *this is not a challenge to every language on earth, merely the humble musings of an English lover.
English is packed with nuances not found in other languages. You can conjure a perfect picture from words on a page. You can convey empathy or anger or excitement using countless words so as to flesh out the precise connotation you are pursuing.
We have compact and concise words, where other languages require an entire sentence to convey the meaning of a well wielded, solitary word. We have seemingly incalculable amounts of words that create context. English wins—hands down—if there were a competition of just how many words we have. For example—depending on your source—an unabridged dictionary could have between 300,000 and 600,000 or more English words to–again an example–the French vocabulary of 70,000 to 100,000 and Italian around 250,000. These are staggering numbers if you consider the average English-speaking person–with a moderate lexicon, knows somewhere in the mid range of 30,000 words. And, from conversations I have endured, that number is dwindling at an alarming rate. This is just one comparison. The truth is one need not compare anything, just read and listen. The words are out there, they are just covered in dust in a long abandoned steamer trunk of unused vocabulary. We don’t need to make more or different words. Don’t get me wrong, occasionally the addition of a fun word such as ‘ginormous’—added to Webster’s Dictionary in 2007—is intriguing. However we make these additions of new words to the dictionary a momentous occasion. I admit, I don’t quite get it. I find this to be like adding new laws when all we need to do is enforce the ones we have. (A conversation for another time.) But there is a time and place for more formal language and there is a reason great works of literature have an abundance of poetic prose to whisk you off into a strikingly real, imaginary world.
I am not even in the top 10 of my circle of ‘smarter than me’ friends. But given the opportunity to speak and make a point, paint a picture, construct a landscape, exact empathy, I think I hold my own. I can only surmise that good writers promote good readers. Good readers, become good communicators. Good communicators… they can do anything. It is empowering the myriad of words we can and should use. It can be a great strength, or the principal attribute that can transcend where you come from. You can remodel yourself with the words you use. It is an amazing tool that is being neglected in an apathetic world.
I said I would not criticize the horrific misuse of the English language today–I merely wanted to praise the English language for all its distinction and grandeur, but I lied. I am saddened by having spent my life learning and embracing my birth language only to feel the pressure to somehow assimilate and adhere to a barrage of slang. I will not go down without a fight. So in quiet protest, I ask that you choose a word a day, or a week, that is likely to stump someone you know, and make it a part of conversation. As a somewhat sapient woman, I only wish to enhance people’s lives with words so that they might see the artistry in their arsenal.
What you learned as a child holds true today. USE YOUR WORDS.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. – Abraham Lincoln
James Calvin Davis is a Christian studies and ethics teacher. Who he is and his religion aside, and even putting aside his book, Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church – I have to agree with and share my personal concern and distress over the current climate of divisiveness in this country. I used to be quite the firecracker when it came to heated conversations. No more! I no longer share in debate and banter with friends and family because it gets ugly in seconds flat. Now, I stand in fear of antagonizing or creating a rift in longstanding friendships.
Journalism: “writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation”
Then, there’s my first love – journalism – a profession that has been vilified as both a career and a calling. Let us try, for a moment, and remember the importance of a free press. Today, the openness to ideas and communication is gone. Self proclaimed well-read and concerned citizens choose to ONLY hear their own voice and those who share that voice. But please think – – -one doesn’t need to agree with on a moral, ethical or simply personal level with everything we see and hear and read, BUT we do have a human obligation to weigh possibilities; to intelligently debate ideas; to actually care about a differing opinion in order to see a more valid truth. This CANNOT be the future:
“You either hate women or like to kill babies. You are either a hawk or a peacenik. You are either homophobic or a fan of bestiality. You either prefer owls to people or condone raping the environment. You are either a socialist or a one-percent. You are either for law enforcement or for African-American rights. This is what most of our public debate looks like these days.” – James Calvin Davis
How do we move forward? Who will teach future generations to communicate, to speak, to share – without being immediately dismissed, rebuked or belittled? We learn by example. It is a general belief that by the time we hit our 20’s, the measure of our integrity has been well established. So what then? I think the importance of teaching ethics is vastly under-emphasized. It is paramount, perhaps more now than ever, to give our future generations the tools in which they are ready to engage and debate alternative views. Conflict resolution should not just be a line on a resume.
We have become a nation numb to the simple virtues of honesty, integrity and compassion. What is conveyed every day by people we should hold in great regard has become accepted behavior. Dishonesty, malice, disparagement: this is the new norm. In fact, I see it not only accepted but worse, emulated. Something’s gotta give, because this is real and this makes me sad.
A little while back I saw an article—somewhere. I recall it being about a condition called ‘highly sensitive person’. My gut reaction was—“an article about whiners? I don’t think so.” I never did actually read it. Recently, however, in one of my self-reflective—what the hell is wrong with me moments I let the concept seep back into my consciousness.
Perhaps it was because of uncontrollable crying while watching TV. Maybe it was the NEED to change the radio station during a “phone tap”- AKA prank, that caused me horrible anxiety. It could have been one of those television shows like America’s Funniest Home Video’s–even THAT can make me uncomfortable. Though honestly, it very well could have been the overwhelming empathy that I have never been able to begin to explain.
Everyone knows I hate crowds—A LOT. Most people know I like to have very minimal lighting at home. I often watch TV with the sound extremely low or with headphones on so I can just turn it down or off and have complete silence. I sometimes just turn the sound off and READ the closed captions. I am completely incapable of watching commercials for sick children or abused animals. I MEAN INCAPABLE. I cry at happy events just as emotionally as I do at sad ones. I NEED to have scented candles to calm myself. The list of my secret weirdness is long and I have been this way for so long that I contributed it to everything from my being born a Cancer—and we are sensitive, to believing it could be depression that might have lingered… for geez… decades?
A couple of weeks ago, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t just the holidays that had me crying at Christmas shows, or commercials, I decided to spend a little time Googling whether this is depression or something else. I honestly didn’t think I was sad. Perhaps I am just going mad! To most people, no one would ever even notice these things about me. I am funny, outgoing, friendly and engaging. One would think that a “highly sensitive person” would be an introvert. I am NOT. I needed to understand what this “highly sensitive person” condition really is. I was excited to think I was getting closer to some sort of authoritative explanation for how I have always felt. I was not looking for a ‘cure’, though being able to watch a movie around people without balling my eyes out, certainly would be be a bonus.
This is what I learned. First and foremost I am NOT alone. Whether or not people understand or admit this newly recognized condition somehow didn’t matter to me because I have read the studies and they speak to me… In fact they scream to me to the point—you guessed it—I cried. It is not a condition that describes a personality type. Being a “HSP” is defined has having a hypersensitive nervous system. This would—in my case—explain my sensitivity to light, to sound, to extreme temperature and even smells! Dr. Ted Zeff, a psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, believes that HSP’s do best in nurturing environments. They are more likely to be artists, musicians, teachers, counselors and health practitioners. And, they’re likely to be popular because they’re so in tune with the needs of others. I wouldn’t say I am popular, but I do feel as if my empathy makes me a special kind of friend, even to people I might only come in contact with briefly.
From the outside, looking in, the majority of the world would have a hard time believing the sheer amount of tears I shed for an equal amount of happy and sad events. In fact, since I am so hyper aware of my crying at the sad, I try to avoid it, which of course has changed nothing. I cry at every happy ending in a movie, at all ‘feel good’ stories on the news, the interview with the hero kitten rescuer, the lottery winner and just now on Fox and Friends Weekend—the interview with the woman who adopted a blind, 14 year old dog who had lived on the streets—YEP, balled at how loved that doggie must feel. I have often felt the anxiety of loving to dance, loving music but having a complete meltdown in a dance club, where my only solace is a few minutes in the restroom or walking outside with the smokers just to be able to calm myself. These are overwhelming emotions. I feel other peoples emotional pain, sadness and stresses. I am attuned to worldwide tragedy’s more than I understand. It is an amazingly intense kind of empathy, that I have often wished I didn’t have. Other times I am happy I feel strongly when I encounter people that seem not to feel at all. The studies and articles I have been reading, explain this in a way that I have begun to be less hard on myself for what I perceived as weaknesses or flaws. I have long ago learned to cope with my feelings, if only to try and mask them to the masses. But, it is what it is. And apparently, it IS a condition. I admit that helps.
The article I read—Here, in The Telegraph—has helped me to understand why I love the quiet, and the dimly lit, the smell of lemon verbena to calm me, or even my love of children’s movies, where they rarely make people feel badly and always have a happy ending. This condition explains why I was never able to watch those early episodes each season of American Idol, where people were so incredibly horrible—I literally can NOT watch people do that to themselves. Don’t laugh, I cringe!, and if I didn’t change the channel I felt physical anxiety.
I am hoping that people that wonder why some of us just “FEEL” more, will realize it actually IS a nervous system condition. I put on the ‘tough girl’ persona as my mask. But being sensitive is just who I am, not something to be controlled, because it can’t be. To me, I feel as if it is no different than a sneeze. I can no more control these feelings as I could squash my sneezes. So if you see me sniffling while reading a book, or wonder where I went at the concert or why I can not stand Times Square… Know that I am just your Highly Sensitive Person—friend. Thanks for understanding.
How long have I been meandering through this market? I look down into my grocery basket. I look up at the sign at the checkout line I’m in. “10 items or less.” Do I have more? Oh crap, I might have more. Grammatically speaking, less refers to singular mass nouns – a general term, as fewer refers to actual items you can count. So, am I going to hold this grammatically incorrect sign to mean that “less” means I don’t need to count my items? Hmm. Were it to say 10 items or “fewer”, and someone actually counted my items, would I have a serious problem? Hmm. No. I am, in fact, okay with them using ‘less’ instead of ‘fewer’. It does not roll off my tongue to say ’10 items or fewer’. Besides, there are only 3 lines open. The other two lanes have people who are shopping for some apocalyptic party or have some disorder akin to OCD–where they absolutely must buy insane quantities of whatever’s on sale. Whatever the case may be, here I stand, in an increasingly long line of people holding baskets of, or just holding, “10 items or less”. I start counting. Are four of the same item, ONE or FOUR? A quandary I find myself in too often. You’d think I would ask someone. The cashier has a void. Perfect. Now, a man, carrying a basket in one hand, and a single item in his other walks up to me. “Ma’am, I only have the three items and I’m really in a hurry. Do you mind if I cut in front of you?” Well, I have already been here for a while, and I am now sweating the number of items I have, and whether I will be caught by the “market police”. “Well, I think I have more than the 10 items, so…” He looks at me as if I had more than 10 heads and he clearly doesn’t care, so I oblige. Now, there is one person, being rung up, one person with their seven items on the conveyor belt—I counted, no doubles—and Mr. ‘I’m in hurry’ in front of me.
I’m someone who makes up stories about people in line at the market based on their purchases. It’s fun and it’s something to do while you wait. I do this because when I had a cat, and would get off the train late from work, I would stop by the market on my way home. I am pretty sure I was being judged when I plopped down a rotisserie chicken, 6 cans of cat food, a packet of cat treats, frozen brussels sprouts and a pint of ice cream. Yes, that little array screams sad, single woman, with cats… I know. I could hear the silent pity. Now it is I who wield the title of Judgy McJudgerson. Let’s see. The person now being rung-up has a very large container of greek yogurt, toilet paper, pretzels, soy milk, organic eggs, tampons and the current issue of US magazine. That, my friends, sounds like a party! Actually, I am betting single woman, no date on this Friday night. I could be wrong. It’s actually not as easy to ‘read’ people in the express lane. The big cart filled to the brim is where the fun is at. You can tell if they have children or pets, or both. You can tell which they love more. 😉 You can tell if they are entertaining, or having a barbecue. You can tell if they like odd foods, and then you wonder if you should try them. I imagine as often as I am in my market, that my regular cashiers can likely spin quite the tale about me based on the weird and nonsensical cravings I accommodate. Oh well, I will not be deterred.
Finally, the manager has corrected the voided item, the cashier has rung up Ms. ‘got no plans tonight’, and now it’s Mr. ‘I’m in a hurry’. He’s an easy read. A gallon of milk, box of cookies, and that 12 pack of beer pretty much screams you’re watching the kids tonight. It’s not judgmental, by the way, it is merely observatory. I observe, I draw unsubstantiated conclusions, silently narrate my little story, and move on, feeling awesome about myself. On this very special—meaning unusual—day, I have a cart with fresh salmon, asparagus, a couple of tomatoes, an avocado, container of strawberry’s, multi-grain English muffins, jar of peanut butter and 4 different flavors of bottled water. (That’s either eight or eleven items.) I have long since placed it on the floor, since my eternal wait in this line has somehow made the basket heavier. I lift it up to unload my items, and feel especially proud of my healthy choices—and equally glad I bought the snack foods yesterday. I have my small-talk conversation with my always pleasant cashier—discuss the weather and the increasing daylight. I pay with my debit card. As he assists me in bagging my few items I look back at how long the line has gotten. Part of me is curious what that really good-looking guy has in his cart… but not today. Today—right now—I am going home to throw these items in the fridge and have the snacks I bought yesterday. I’m exhausted. 🙂
Have a great day, grocery shoppers!