The evolution of language, especially the history of the origin of words, has been something that’s interested me for as long as I can remember. I think I might have pursued a degree in linguistics, if I had the vaguest notion of a viable career path in that field (other than professor, which really wasn’t my cup of tea).
That we managed, somehow, to go from scratching stick figures in caves and on trees, to formulating precise words such as Azure and Onomatopoeia, is nothing short of amazing.
Don’t even get me started on how we could have gone from stone tablets to parchment & scrolls to computer printouts and, in an odd twist, back to tablets again.
It’s hard for me to imagine what our language will look like in 20 years, or even 10. And it’s not just English, pick a language and I guarantee that it’s been significantly altered by texting, instant messaging, sharing in 140 and just a general impatience in trying to get our thoughts across quickly, virtually, and in real time.
I grew up on a steady diet of word games. Scrabble, Boggle, crosswords, and even the Sunday Jumble played an integral role in my childhood. My father was an erudite, a logophile, knowledgeable about words I really couldn’t believe existed until I looked them up. Then, assuming he just happened to know that particular word out of sheer luck, I would promptly quiz him on the meaning and it’s usage. He always knew the exact definition to a fault. He was this way about almost every subject imaginable. A fan of Jeopardy, I never once heard him “guess” and his answers were always correct.
I wonder what he would think of our state of less is more when it comes to words. How so many of us have reduced our vocabulary to the point that Awesome has a dozen different meanings. And how his own daughter can often be found tweeting LOL – simply because there really isn’t enough time (or room) to expand upon the conversation at hand. And because she knows few if any really want to delve into a true conversation when there’s so much sharing, and liking, and pinning to do.
I miss words so much so that I’ve downloaded dozens of word game apps in an effort to keep the faith, lexicographically speaking. I’m taking great liberty with certain words here. But that’s just how much I’m missing words.
Estimates say that the average person knows anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 words, but uses only a fraction of those words (and that was pre-Twitter). Then there was talk, in the late 90’s and into this century, of a drastic decline in the vocabulary of young adults – reportedly almost a 60% decline. Although, that may have been a bit of an exaggeration. Read this for the background (almost wrote deets there).
However, I think it’s fair to say (without need of a scientific review) that our collective vocabulary is on the decline, in a big way.
It wouldn’t make sense to post something like this:
Yesterday, as the sun was rising on the horizon, shining a golden blaze over crashing waves, my frenzied golden retriever tried to knock down my cranky neighborhood as I spilled a cup of caramel creme latte over her crinkled grey hair.
When one could just say:
OMG. Crazy mutt. WTH! May have to move. #MorningWalk
Early on, I tried to resist, I really did, but I’ll admit, so much of my vocabulary has been usurped by 🙂 and ;). Occasionally, I throw all caution to the wind and speak my peace – fully and in extended vocab (but not always).
So when you visit me on Twitter don’t take offense if I happen to throw a ROFL your way…
When in Rome (and all that jazz).