Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Vocabulary Monster

I am rather proud of my vocabulary. I try not to show it off because there always seems to be someone there to mock me. However, I love words and use a lot of 'em.

I heard somewhere that the average vocabulary now is a third of the size it was 100 years ago. I'm not even sure if that's true, but I thought about it a great deal. First, I thought about how lazy we've all gotten with our vocabulary lately. I'm not talking about slang (which some find lazy, but I find fascinating) but rather words like "very," "bad," "good," and "okay." There's nothing wrong with any of those words, but we have come to use them so copiously and without regard to meaning variegation.

Then, I thought about medical terminology and technical terminology. In the past century, we have made up thousands of words, everything from text (as a verb) to skype; from radar to sonar and from chemotherapy to ultrasound. Most people are conversant with those terms and myriad others. When you factor in the vocabulary that has been gained during this period, it only compounds what we must have lost.

Frankly, I'm not worried about my vocabulary. I think mine is peachy keen and fancy enough for everyday. I was talking to someone the other day and they were looking for a word: "Ebullient," I supplied. In return I received a blank stare. But I am worried for the vocabularies of my kids.

I don't talk babytalk to my kids, but we do have household names for certain things: Kool-Ade is "drinky," my favorite blanket is "bankie," Spiderman is "PideyMan," shampoo is "shampoozle," and sour cream is "schleam." It's our household culture. Our own language. A few days ago, with cold sweat running down my back, I casually asked Brynna, "What's the real word for schleam?" After the most infuriatingly adolescent look you can imagine, Brynna replied, "Sour cream. I would never call it schleam at school." Which is, of course, what I wanted to know. That kid is insightful.

Maren is still learning that drinky is pretty narrowly defined and does not cover other drinkable liquids. Or that most of the world doesn't giggle maniacally whenever you say shampoozle. It's okay, she'll get there. But with our "special" vocabulary and the entire world around them forgetting words right and left. I can't help but feel like there may be a war going on behind the scenes.

And because I believe that in all things, we lead best by example, I am trying to use some more of my vocabulary in their presence. I hope it works.

On the other hand, perhaps it's just one more thing to panic about. Or even a made up statistic. I understand that 97 per cent of them are.


Anonymous said...

Use more on your blog! :-) Maybe once in a while you can do a whole post full of special words like ebullient. I would like that. :-)


Orlandel said...

You could do what Ann said....and I will have to pull out my dictionary/thesaurus in order to read it, but I'm sure I will learn something useful.

(who's current at-home child has another vocabulary - full of engine noises, and car part words that I have never heard of either. but hey, that mean's I'll be bi-vocabularied!! :-)

Orlandel said...

Ok - I may not know as much vocabulary, but I really, really do know punctuation and I know that in the above comment I need a comma after either, not a period and means does not need an apostrophe! Sorry!!!!