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Word Up

October 15, 2015

Have you ever considered our use of words? Well, just in case the thought ever crosses your mind in the not too distant future Harvard University estimates there are over a million words in the English language available for your contemplation. Wowzer, talk about massive verbal skills! Even Webster’s first comprehensive dictionary, a two part set published in 1828, only contained 70,000; a jump, however, from the previously peddled books containing 58,000. Written over 27 years, Webster was the ripe young age of 70 when it published.

No reason to feel portentous however, if you’re not articulating as grandiloquent as you would perhaps prefer. Individuals (English language natives) have a rather impressive vocabulary of roughly 20,000-35,000 words depending on careers paths and education levels. Given we only use a small percentage of the grand shebang it’s still an extraordinary amount of words.

Obviously, I don’t walk around saying pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (currently the longest word in the English dictionary) and neither should you. (Writers note: it’s a medical term for the disease caused by inhaling volcano dust.) Although, I remember when I was 8 or 9 my older brother and I tried spelling antidisestablishmentarianism, the longest word we could find in the dictionary. Stimulating how fascinated we were by the challenge of spelling as a children. A stark contrast to today’s offspring who are engrossed in dissecting digital expressions by reassembling them into condensations with numerical equivalents! Sigh, Noah Webster has rolled over so many times in his grave he’s left skid marks on the inside of his coffin.

Almost seems like words are a beginning and a means to an end. Speaking of endings, there is practically no end to the numerous ways to use the word ‘set.’ My researched disclosed over 400 uses. Jeepers, can you imagine using ‘set’ in four hundred sentences.

That’s an afternoon of detention, or a great task parents can give disruptive children. “Junior, set your brother down and set your behind in that chair and set your sights on giving me twenty sentences with the word ‘set.’”

“OMG! WYM?! Is this an AFJ?! IDDI!”

“And NO text abbreviations!”

“WE .!!!!” (Webster, sorry dude, but technology has destroyed language as you knew it.)

Let’s face it, we’ll probably never see a teenager wearing an “I have words and I know how to use them!” t-shirt. Although, I for one think it’s an awesome idea; so I Googled it. Apparently it doesn’t exist, yet our younger generation who are spelling words and phrases with numbers could benefit the most from using actual words. Either that or the best use of texting would be to convert everything to shorthand, at least then kids would have learned a skill by the time they grow up.
BTW, guess which word is second on the list of most uses? Nope. Hey, stop googling! Dickens, if you can read faster than your iPhone can process it you might be amazed to discover that the word ‘run’ comes in at just under four hundred. Then: go, take, stand, get, turn, put, fall, strike to complete the top ten. Actually, I’m surprised ‘out’ didn’t make the list, but then, how many ways can you use the word ‘out’? Keep Googling…it’s a lot.

You know, I was an avid reader as a child, joining the library book club each summer and always achieving the goal of 100 books read, yet never imagining myself a writer of books and connoisseur of words as an adult. Astonishing to fathom words contain as infinite avenues of expression as the artist’s pallet contains immeasurable capacities for hue. Words take you places you’ve never dreamt of being. Words soar brazenly for the stars, or humbly recline amidst a barren landscape. Words are priceless, yet free. Words reveal the truth, yet tell lies. Words are building blocks, yet wrecking balls. Words take you there, yet bring you home.

It certainly goes without saying there are many ways to use words. However, there are only two things words cannot do. Words cannot be unspoken (or unwritten), nor can they be unheard. Can they be forgotten? Yes. Although, rather than impose upon others to forget…choose your words wisely. You have a virtual smorgasbord to choose from.

Can you imagine…writing, as a second language?

Smile, 143 you guys!



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