There are a lot of words in our lives.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 words in current use, not including 50,000 words labeled obsolete, technical, regional, new, and invented by people like The Orange Man in the White House.
Think covfefe and braggadocious.
The rest of us own fewer words. The average English-speaking adult knows 20,000 to 30,000 words. Women do use more words – a daily average of 20,000 to a man’s paltry 7,000 words. Shakespeare knew about 66,534 words while a college educated individual today can have a vocabulary as large as 80,000.
That’s a lot of hefty definitions and tongue twisters. Today’s “professional words” complicate things with terms you can’t pronounce like synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (hiccup) and abbreviations you can’t define like RAM, ROM, and BIOS. Legalese, computerese, medical jargon, rocket science, and teenagers choose words jealously reserved for the in-group.
Language is like a politician – always changing, pivoting, and bewildering. It has a life of its own – adopting foreign (or foreign-sounding) words, shifting meanings, and self-serving. Every language is a living work of art with its own style, genius, and personality. Our words define us – empower us to think, talk, write, and be social. Your command of language is a big part of daily life.
Ask our President who claims, “I know words. I have the best words . . .” The Donald’s dignified names for people who disagree with him range from Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas, and Rocket Man to Slime Ball Comey. His favorite words – spoken and tweeted – are me, I, and great.
Words show who you are. Millennials talk about throwing shade and on fleek. Social media uses ICYMI (in case I missed it) and PAW (parents are watching). Texting embraces adulting and photo bombing.
Words also date us. When you use comfy retro terms a young person might giggle, grimace, or have no clue what you’re talking about. How many of these linger in your talk?
have a blast
lay it on me
Do you wear a house coat, dig it, or play telephone tag? Do you use a rolodex, make long distance calls, or surf the web?
English constantly challenges us with new and foreign words. When was the last time you ordered a la carte (French), had a bagel (German), or munched on nachos (Spanish)? Even ketchup was lifted from Cantonese. Quid pro quo, along with ad hoc came straight from Latin. Weather reporters threaten us with chilling predictions of bombogenesis, polar vortex, and thundersnow.
Language is essential to our species yet we often take it for granted. After all, most of us have been talking since we were 12 months old. Great manipulators get away with using loaded phrases like fake news and WITCH HUNT while entertainers innocently refer to despertainment, docudrama, and veejay. Too many of us listen but don’t hear.
Why not nip it in the bud?
Lighten your WOKE (awareness of what’s happening) and ease your FOMO (fear of missing out). Who knows what can happen when an afterfifty-er speaks Millennial?