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I ran across an article in the NYTimes today, that caught my eye.  (Isn’t that an odd remark though? I don’t want anything really to catch my eye. It sounds like it would hurt!) I digress again.

The Times  has an embedded gizmo that when you hover over a word, it hyperlinks it to the dictionary and you can see what it means. Some higher-ups in the organization figured it might be interested to know what words people were looking up.

This makes sense to me, since who wants to use words that your readers don’t know? I assume people can give up and go elsewhere, particularly when there are so  many elsewheres to go to on the Internet.

I looked at the list of words, which can be found here, and well, I have to say, I didn’t actually know the meaning of a good many of them. I have seen most of them in print before, but if asked, I couldn’t give a very good definition.

That raises two big issues for me. Why do I apparently read so many words, not really knowing what they mean without bothering to look them up? That is a deep failing on my part, to be sure. I can of course come up with plenty of excuses. One doesn’t always have a dictionary at hand, I’m too busy sometimes, I have a good idea from the context? (usually wrong I find), and well, got an hour? I can come up with more.

For instance as to context. I have seen the word laconic hundreds of times. I actually thought it meant lazy, drowsy, uninterested, something like that.It certainly soundslike a word that would be lazy doesn’t it. It kinda falls off the lips in a languid late summery kind of way. It actually means “concise.” Who would have thought. Like law, things are not always, or even usually what they sound like, look like, or logically should be.

The second thing I realized is that, although I read more than say the average person, (I figure I do at least), and I write a good three thousand words a day between posting, commenting and so on, I have a rather abysmal command over all of the language. I mean, I seriously didn’t do well at defining most of these words.

A few weeks ago, the Contrarian and I watched the finals of the kids spelling bee. We had never watched before, and it was amusing and rather amazing to watch these kids spell truly awful words, almost all of which I had never heard. I learned that they learn not only thousands of these obscure words but they also are experts at language, original languages, word structure, and all that goes into building words. The area is called I believe, linguistics, LIN GUIS TICS.

I had actually learned a bit of that in thinking at one time I might like to be a medical transcriber. You learn root words and then it’s often pretty easy to figure out what a word means.  You just break it into its constituent parts.

Still, it didn’t occur to me frankly that I was so word stupid. Now if someone like me, who writes reasonably coherently, with something a bit beyond the “Dick meets Jane” vocabulary, is really fairly wordless, then what does this say about the state of English in America at large?

Especially so, when we face the onslaught of “twittering” and “texting?” This says nothing at all of those old standbys “black English” and probably other ethnic “sub languages” that are prevalent in our larger cities. Are we facing the demise of English as we know it?

I don’t know, and I further don’t know if it really matters or not. If we can communicate in the manner necessary to get our point across, then perhaps it doesn’t. I would argue that the plethora of words at our disposal is intended, at least in part, to make available to us a precision in statement. No doubt in diplomatic circles, business, medicine and physics, to name a few, such precision is essential. It might literally mean the difference between life and death. As to whether I need it to chat with a friend over coffee, not so much.

I guess what is troubling is how this wordiness is acquired. It doesn’t seem to come with the “territory” of writing. I can testify that it doesn’t come with “reading the dictionary” either. The Contrarian professes that he did just that as a young man, and well, he can’t spell at all, and doesn’t seem to use especially confounding terms either.

So, are all you users of “big words” people, who wear out dictionaries surreptitiously looking up words, doing it to astound and piss off the rest of us? Again, I have no clue. Sorry, I not being at all laconic here am I? (*smirk*)

So if you have a clue how I got so dull in the word world, please give it to me. I would dearly love to know. Perhaps I’m just sui generis, who knows. Or perhaps I’m more of a abstruse individual. In any case, I’m——


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