Arment Dietrich

For the Love of Language

By: Arment Dietrich | September 19, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Gerber.

It’s my last post as chief content officer for Spin Sucks today. I’m feeling a little nostalgic, so I hope you’ll indulge me in a story.

Ever since I was six years old, I have had a love affair with language.

Then, my love was mostly for foreign languages. I loved the idea that people used different words to speak in different cultures. In fact, do you remember Steve Martin’s warning to potential visitors to France?

“Oeuf means egg. Chapeau means hat. It’s like, those French have a different word for everything.”

I used to imagine I could speak a different language. My nutty little self would speak in a foreign tongue with my dollies. Then, as I got older, I took French as soon as I could – in the fifth grade. I also started reading books voraciously. 

When I got to high school, I was speaking French pretty well, and my English teacher (the really tough one) told a class, one that I was not in, that I had the best vocabulary. I’ll never forget when my friend told me he said that. I was very proud. I guess I still am.

One day, sitting in the back seat of the car on our way to a day of skiing, I was practicing my upcoming French skit out loud. I was speaking a real foreign language! And my Dad said, “Why don’t you go to France?” Huh? It didn’t ever occur to me to go to France. I was taking French because I loved the words; not so I could go to France. But now that you mention it, I’d love to, thank you.

I never imagined I’d actually write for a living. To be clear, I don’t consider myself a writer, but I am fortunate to write for a living.

All these thoughts came to mind as I was driving the other day, listening to NPR and I heard the term “indisputable.” I made a mental note to add that word to my word file.

What Percentage of the English Language Do We Use?

I keep a word file in an attempt to continually expand my vocabulary. When I hear a word I rarely use, I make a note and add it. The average person uses a small percentage of the entire English language. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1989) has 615,000 entries. I’ve read varying accounts that we use anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 of those words. That’s a lot of neglected words.  This makes me almost as sad as the pets in need of a home at the shelter.

Each individual has his or her own lexicon. It would be interesting to do a blind blogger taste test and circulate blog posts without the author attribution to guess who wrote it. I bet we could figure it out.

And that’s a good thing. It means we each have a voice, distinct from the others. But at the same time, we should work to constantly expand it, which is why I have that word file.

British publisher Harper Collins Dictionary is crowdsourcing the evolution of the English language. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. On the one hand, it’s important to adapt our language to stay current with the times, just like we all adapt our businesses. But for the purists out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if you became aghast (another word in my word file.)

Words like cyberbullytweetup, and livestream make sense to me. They even added bridezilla! These words represent part of a changing world. The additions of amazeballs and impactful make me wonder where you draw the line.

Regardless, the publishers’ intent is to gain greater insight into usage by opening up the process to the public. Words are screened based on usage and frequency. The full list of words is here. You can submit your word here.

Enough of my stories. If you had a word file, what words would you include? What are some words you love?

Au revoir mes amis! But never fear: I’ll still be hanging out in the comments. And I’ll be working to improve my diction, so hopefully Lindsay Bell will have me back as a guest blogger.

  • Like you, I’m stuck in the middle, as a traditionalist who understands the need for language to grow and evolve. I think we’d be surprised at how many of the words we’ve used our entire lives really aren’t that old, but were introduced into our language and culture in the 20th Century. 
    As for me, I’m still trying to get Muelleriffic into the lexicon.

    •  @KenMueller Did you add it to the Harper Collins link? Do IT!!!!!

      •  @Lisa Gerber I will, but you should submit it as well. Let’s start a movement!

  • What a lovely send off post!
    I’m with you & @KenMueller I am simultaneously flummoxed and fascinated by the changes in language.  It’s funny how fast words fall out of flavor as well.  I used the work “panache” in front of a younger crowd and they had no idea what I was saying.  
    Fun word for the word file: Deracinate – It means to rip someone or something from their roots. My 12th grade English used to describe his reaction from an argument we were having. “You have deracinated my consent”.  It was the first new word I had heard in years and just stuck with me. 

    •  @HeatherTweedy  @KenMueller You had me at flummoxed and fascinated!!!. 🙂 And I seriously need to go deracinate things in my backyard.

  • Hi Lisa,
    I understand the love for words and language. I am the guy who sometimes reads the dictionary for fun. My family gives me books on words as gifts. There is real beauty in language and those who know how to use it well.

    •  @thejoshuawilner Seriously? Like on the beach? I’m having a great visual of that, can you imagine? LOL. 
      Actually, I have a friend who gave my a pocket dictionary one year for my birthday, and she inscribed it, “So you can prove everyone wrong on the go.” 🙂

  • @LisaGerber So happy for the new ventures ahead of you, but understand it’s bittersweet! It seems we share a love for language, and I’m uber jealous you’re so adept in French (admitted Francophile here). Growing up it was Spanish for me, though I’m more so enamored with Romantic counterparts Italian and French.
    Fascinating bit about Harper Collins capturing the fluidity of the English language. Some of my favorite words? Salient, incorrigible, virulent, visceral and la fille aux cheveux de lin

    •  @Byron Fernandez  @LisaGerber Visceral is a great word! Love it. and Byron, you are definitely incorrigible. Yes – it’s a very bittersweet time, but I won’t be far, as you know. 🙂

  • Your wordnerdiness makes me all weak in the knees, lisagerber . I’ve been fascinated by the fluidity of language for many years, especially when looking at the way that slang and jargon become standardized into what we understand as standard English. Interestingly, the OED is considered by some to be one of the earliest examples of croudsourcing in practice. Sir James Murray, the chief editor of the OED in the 1870s recruited amateur philologists to index all words in the English language along with example quotations of their usages. He received over 6 million submissions over a period of 70 years. “The Surgeon of Crowthorne” tells this story. Highly recommended. 🙂 

    •  @jasonkonopinski  Sheesh Jason, and you asked me to marry you on FB last night. Just don’t start to get the wrong idea!!! 
      Very cool story, by the way. And I guess that’s one of my concerns with the Harper Collins project – a lot of the words are slang – so how do you determine what is slang, on other words, what is a fad, or what is evolution? I guess that’s the big differentiator and now I wish I had blogged about THAT. 

      •  @Lisa Gerber You tempted me with photos of blue-box. 🙂
        Words aren’t accepted all willy-nilly, mind you. The OED is extensively vetted and peer-reviewed, demanding that every word have examples of usage in popular culture. A good many words in English were introduced thanks to Shakespeare. 
        If you ever want to tackle linguistics and language drift again, there’s always a place for you over at my place, you know. 

  • John_Trader1

    Sad to see the final CCO post but as you ride off into the sunset know that myself and the rest of us here appreciated your deft handling of this blog’s content, with the exception of those posts from Gini what’s her name – how did this blogger get permission to write here anyway?
    I am so glad to read that you consider yourself a word geek – there are many of us closet vocab nerds walking about and we need to join our forces and open up people’s lexicon to the many wonderful words that exist which we seldom use – words like inveigle, fanfaronade, fugacious, pecksniffian and aesopian.
    You know it’s a good day when you are writing something and you use a word which you know is correct, but your spellchecker doesn’t even recognize. That’s a win.

    •  @John_Trader1 OMG, I think you have out-worded me. 🙂 Thanks so much, John. It’s hardly goodbye, though!! 

  • Comme vous vous embarquez sur votre nouveau voyage, je vais certainement vous souhaite la meilleure des chances. Il a été un réel plaisir de faire votre connaissance et de me laisser jouer dans votre bac à sable.
    Huh? What was that? I must have been speaking in tongue……….
    In fact, huh is probably the word I use the most; especially since I only use about 17 words in the English dictionary. I have used indisputable before….or maybe read it somewhere…….
    I also had the opportunity to go to Monaco, Nice & Geneva Switzerland for a couple of weeks and I was speaking like a native by the time I left….ok, maybe they asked me to leave but that’s splitting hairs………
    Good luck and look forward to seeing you on our side of the fence. 

    •  @bdorman264 I’ve used inarguably, and without debate… but indisputable… I thought – hey, I never use that word!!! 
      Thanks for the wishes, Bdorman!! Maybe I can be inducted into the Crazies now. 

  • ifdyperez


  • razoo

    @lisagerber We don’t like goodbyes. How about… See you later, Lisa! cc @ginidietrich @SpinSucks

    • lisagerber

      @razoo or… LATES!!! @GiniDietrich

      • razoo

        @lisagerber @ginidietrich Yes! Much better. 🙂

    • SpinSucks


    • SpinSucks

      @razoo Did you like my blank tweet? Got distracted by my pup, but I totally agree!! See you later Lisa :'(

  • The iPad lets me look up the definition of just about any word, with just a touch. I don’t know how I got by before that. I’m probably one of those 3,000-word people. You’ll never have to look up anything on my blog, unless I misspelled something beyond recognition.
    Since I’m going to meet you IN PERSON in a couple weeks (aren’t the rest of you guys jealous!), I’ll save all the corny stuff for later. 

    •  @barrettrossie No corny stuff in person either!! ewww!!! 🙂 
      It will be very cool to see you in person! WOOHOO. Please be sure and start a standing ovation for me when I’m done!! OR wait….. start the WAVE!!!!!! I’ll give you ten bucks. 

      •  @Lisa Gerber  @barrettrossie Well, crap. I did get to have a solid phone call with Barrett this week. 

  • Where are you going, Lisa?

    •  @Frank_Strong Hi Frank! I’m handing the content reins over to belllindsay and I’ll be lurking in the comments from now on just like the rest of the riff raff here. And I’ll be re-launching my business in November. 🙂

      • belllindsay

         @Lisa Gerber  @Frank_Strong Who you calling riff raff? 🙂 

  • lisagerber

    @margieclayman Thanks, Margie. 🙂

    • MargieClayman

      @lisagerber best wishes, m’dear! 🙂


    @MartinaMcGowan Hi Martina hope you are doing well

    • MartinaMcGowan

      @SMSJOE Doing well Joe. I trust the same for you.

      • SMSJOE

        @martinamcgowan yep going well here Martina

  • coffeewithjulie

    Oh! This is news … I didn’t realize you were leaving and handing the reigns over. You’ve done an awesomesauce job here and we’ll miss you! I too hope to meet you one day “IRL” as they say. Until then …. 

    •  @coffeewithjulie Thank you, Julie! I hope we will too! I love getting up to Canada. 🙂

  • magriebler

    Avez-vous en France? Je l’espère! Et Paris est magique.
    Traveling mercies to you in all your new endeavors. It’s a big world out there; knock it dead.

    •  @magriebler Yes! Many times. Just love France, and I had the awesome opportunity to live in Paris fo a year. It is indeed magical, isn’t it? Sigh. What about you? Have you been in the countryside too? 

      • magriebler

         @Lisa Gerber Oh good for you. I’ve been to Paris multiple times (I have friends who used to live off Rue Cler) but the farthest out of the city I’ve gotten is Versailles. (Ha, ha.) Getting into the countryside is on my bucket list. Some day ….

  • Vous souhaitant tout le meilleur Lisa:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Well, you already know where I stand on this one: I wish we could hold onto you and I am all about milking every last moment I have with you. But on the word front? In our family we create the words that truly express the moment and one of my favorites (that I invented) is “perflusticate”. Sort of intended to convey that moment when you are so flummoxed that you are unsure of where or how to move next but you are anxiously flapping around trying to do something right. ;).And then, I so love the graceful and poetic Spanish response to a compliment. When someone compliments you, you respond by saying, “en sus reflejos.” Meaning literally, in your reflection. Lovely. Gracious.

    •  @allenmireles I did not know this about the Spanish language and I LOVE that. Amazingly gracious. Now I want to do a post on foreign languages, and some things we could learn from them. I’m perflusitcating at the idea. 

  • geoffliving

    You’ll be missed, Lisa.  Thanks for being a great content curator, and a bien amie. Tu est magnifique, a bientot, et merci!

    •  @geoffliving Je t’en prie, Geoff! thank YOU. 🙂 And it’s hardly goodbye. 🙂

  • JoselinMane

    @jeffespo Good Morning Sir

  • belllindsay

    What a fantastic post @Lisa Gerber – sorry I missed it yesterday – I was a bit *ahem* busy! LOL Words are one of my very favourite things in the whole world. I get made fun of all the time because of some of the words I use. Though you wouldn’t know by the lameness of this comment – cut me some slack, I’m still waking up. 😀 xoxox

    •  @belllindsay no commenting before lots of coffee.LOL. You taught me a great word this morning. I’m so bagged! 

      • belllindsay

         @Lisa Gerber Hey! Almost three weeks coffee-free! 😉 I gave you another word today also – vernacular!! hahaha I’m bagged too!! 

  • Nodding along. I was exposed to a second language pretty early on in life as well, and it opened me to learn to speak and read two others as well. But it’s strange, and I’ve blogged about it, how these new words like the ones you mentioned do make sense–they’re not brand new coinages, they’re usually mashups of old words to imply something new. It’s fun and sometimes horrifying (PRketing, @soulati ?) to watch. 

    •  @ShakirahDawud  Hard to draw the line between words that might be a passing fad and words that just need to be added to our lexicon. Thanks, Shakirah!

      •  @Lisa Gerber  @ShakirahDawud One of my favorite words: portmanteau (i.e the mashup). 

        •  @jasonkonopinski  @Lisa Gerber You got me–I almost used that one instead!

  • English is my second language. And I learnt it when I was small, and I remember our English teacher in school told us “English can be funny, because it have the same words for many things (genes and jeans) but they mean different and spell different”.
    So four languages later, I have a lot of words…. but my favorite remains Shawarmas! 🙂 Many reasons…

  • lisagerber

    @voxoptima Aww, I won’t be far. I’ll still be right here. Do you know @belllindsay? she’s taking over the content. for @SpinSucks

    • VoxOptima

      @lisagerber @belllindsay @SpinSucks We DO follow Lindsay’s work & she’s awesome, if anyone can fill your shoes, it’s her.

      • belllindsay

        @VoxOptima **blush** 😉 @lisagerber @SpinSucks

        • lisagerber

          @belllindsay hahaha – no joke about the massive shoes? 🙂

        • belllindsay

          @lisagerber Haahahaha!! BIG SHOES!!

  • lisagerber

    @econwriter5 Thanks for the share!

  • lisagerber

    @lamiki <3 🙂

  • TedRubin

    I love the words:
    Serendipity… what it stands for and where it takes us.
    Appreciation… so much value is just one word. Use it early and often.
    Collaboration… because that is what this new socially scaleable world is all about. 
    Great post Lisa 🙂

  • lisagerber

    @OhioDanielle thanks for sharing my post a few days ago. 🙂