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 trave
ller 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?