It’s only words, and words are all I have

The human brain is a wonderful thing, but let’s face it, on occasions it chooses the path of least resistance. This is particularly true when it comes to language. I think the average human vocabulary consists of around 20,000 or so ‘word families’ (meaning that The Special One’s extensive and expertly-curated collection of F-bombs sadly only counts as one), but that doesn’t mean that we don’t just use the same old words over and over again.

I’m no less guilty of this than anyone, obviously. While I might use any number of words to describe the melancholic beauty and wonder of, say, Odilon Redon’s symbolist art, you can pretty much guarantee that I will instead resort to ‘brilliant’ or – if I’m feeling particularly retro – ‘fab’. And while studying the history of international politics and diplomacy at university has helped give me enough of an understanding of the situation in Gaza or Afghanistan to comment relatively sensibly, I still occasionally hear myself say something like ‘yeah, it’s pretty bad, isn’t it?’

Of course, I still lob random multi-syllable words into speech with the speed and regularity of the Rafael Nadal forehand. But whether it’s my move to America or an indictment of global society, I think there’s a definite dumbing down of language going on all around us. Syllables don’t fit into the text speak world, it seems. To be fair, nor do ‘words that make any sense’ when it comes to The Special One, given that she’s still a text novice. But beautiful words previously in relatively common parlance are sadly disappearing faster than Rod Blagojevich’s credibility. After all, why use ‘diaphanous’ when you can say ‘hazy’, ‘effervescent’ when you can use ‘fizzy’ or ‘flabbergasted’ when you can write ‘OMG!!!! LOL!!!! ROFLMAO!!!!!!’

To be fair, there are plenty of examples of people keeping the flame of great words alive. I almost fell off my chair yesterday when one of my Facebook friends used the word ‘portmanteau’ in a status update. But on the whole it seems that if things continue the way they’re going, 2015 will be the first point in our history that man used less words than the number of the year.

One thing you can guarantee in America at least is that one of the last words to be eradicated will be ‘retard’. Rarely have I heard a word so overused or so misplaced. From The Eldest berating The Youngest because of a silly word-slip, or a commuter castigating a fellow traveller because he happened to get in her way, ‘retard’ is used more commonly than ‘coffee’ in New York. Not as much as ‘asshole’, obviously. But way more than ‘please’.

The sooner President Obama outlaws the use of the word, the better. It’s not like he’s got anything else to do, is it?

3 thoughts on “It’s only words, and words are all I have

  1. Winifred

    Enjoyed your posting. Mmm diaphenous that’s a word to conjure with. Oh yes I’m guilty of this use of slovenly language, “mm that’s a nice sky” or “lovely photo”. Now it’s partly because I blog late at night and my brain is winding down but I think I’m getting lazy too. So maybe I’ll get out my dictionary tomorrow and have a word of the day to fit into my comments. How about verve, or maybe dissonant?

    Have to say I never use these abbreviations. Why? I have no idea what they mean and no intention of bothering to find out!

  2. Siobhan

    I will admit out loud that my vocabulary isn’t what it once was. I think part of that might be due in part to British word plays, using words as humour. There are definitely words I need to say more, like ‘brilliant’ and ‘fantastic’; and I have been trying.

    I was shocked when I first arrived here to here the word ‘retarded’ thrown around here so willy-nilly! Her shirt was retarded because it wouldn’t submit to an iron. Her hair was retarded, it was apparent she was having a bad day. School was suddenly retarded.

    I remedy my word lull by continuing to reading good books. And by good books, I mean I branch out a wee bit from ‘Goodnight Moon’.

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