English in a post text world — an addendum

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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.

Xoxo DDJ

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