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Arment Dietrich

For the Love of Language

By: Arment Dietrich | September 19, 2012 | 
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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.