Words. Do They Matter?
Robert Carrier - Friday, February 25, 2011 |
The English language has changed enormously in the last several decades. The average vocabulary for a high schooler in 1945 was 45,000 words. Now, it's dropped to a measly 10,000, a shadow of its former glory. Anyone with a basic understanding of math would see that this is a serious problem.
Some would argue that this development (or regression, really) is just the evolution of our language. Why would we bother with so many superfluous words when we can get by with so many less? It is a type of “survival of the fittest,” if you will. I can understand their logic to a degree; who needs to learn a dozen words when they can get by with one. Take “ok” for example. They could say something is adequate, admissible, all right, cool, decent, fair, hunky-dory, kosher, passable, peachy-keen, pleasing, respectable, right on, satisfactory, sufficient, swell, tolerable, unexceptional, unobjectionable, or up to snuff. But why do we need all those when a simple two-letter, text-friendly word will suffice?
My friend Aaron is the perfect example of why limiting your vocabulary to fewer words doesn't work. He likes to create analogies to describe a wide variety of things. Unfortunately, he always compares them to the same thing. “This pizza is hot as shit.” “That movie was cool as shit.” “He's smarter than shit.” (I found that last one particularly entertaining; I would hope that statement applied to anyone.) I always follow up his comments with a question along the lines of, “Exactly how hot is shit, Aaron?” in the hope that he'll realize how ridiculous he sounds. But he's not the only one who does this. I can't count the number of times I've heard people make statements just like these.
Aaron's example and the example of a little word like “ok” both illustrate the fundamental problem with restricting our language. When you assign that many different meanings to one word, the word starts to lose its clear meaning. Is shit good or bad? Hot or cool? Smart or dumb? Depending on the context, it's any of them. But which one? If the English language continues to be diluted in this way, we'll have a lot harder (and more confusing) time describing things and explaining ourselves.
I think part of what is to blame for the decline of the english language is the decline in reading. With the advent of radio, television, dvd players, the internet, smart phones, and other technology, reading has taken a backseat as the entertainment of choice. People develop their vocabulary by being exposed to words. The easiest and best way to be exposed to words is through reading.
I love reading. English class was my favorite because it meant I got to do what I loved and call it homework. The problem with so many students (the future adults) is that reading is only encouraged as a part of school assignments. For most kids, school is not fun. So, as it logically follows, books are not fun. Because of this aversion, the average American adult only reads 4 books a year. Most of those books were religious works, romance novels, or popular fiction, which suffer from the same vocabulary anemia as the rest of the country. According to the Washington Post, a fourth of the people surveyed did not read a single book all year.
Unless we continue to stress the importance of reading, and more importantly the joy that reading holds, our nation's vocabulary will continue shrinking. We need to begin taking our language more seriously. If we don't take action, starting with ourselves, we risk losing our words, one “flosculation” at a time.