Friday, September 16, 2016

At a Loss For Words :-D

Can you guess how many words there are in the English language? I bet you can’t. 

According to the Global Language Monitor, the number of words in the English Language is 1,025,109. Even more surprising, a new word is created every 98 minutes for an average of 14.7 words per day. The average English-speaking adult has a vocabulary of about 20,000-30,000 words. For myself, as an attorney, writer, English major and geeky logophile, I like to think I'm above average but, too often, I find I'm at a loss for words. Not technical terms or high-brow concepts, but plain old words. I could blame my age (I just turned 55) or I could blame my iPhone (where Siri is at my beck and call to answer any silly question, day or night), or I could blame myself for not trying hard enough. A myriad of concepts, movies, books, and people have decided my brain was too darn crowded, so they hit the road leaving me with my only two vague and useless phrases: That…thing, you know what I mean and that…guy, you remember him…

 I believe the true culprit is convenience. For example, I remember every important phone number from my childhood, including my grandparents' number--and they have been gone twenty-five years. Today, the only phone number I am confident I know is my own; every other number is stored on my phone. Here is another example, say I want to know the definition of a word I've typed, I can simply right-click on it. What's more, I can translate it into dozens of languages including Hindi, Swahili and Mandarin. Just now, I right-clicked on the word number and learned that its synonyms are: amount, quantity, sum, figure, numeral, digit, and integer. Sure, I could have come up with those words without a lot of effort, but why would I bother? I have better things to do, even if I can't think of any at the moment…

There is a second culprit I blame for my diminishing vocabulary, for rewriting my life story into a mystery I call "The Case of the Purloined People, Places and Things". Rats, I meant nouns, of course. That culprit is the pictograph, a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase. You know them as emojis. The endless supply of clever emojis has led me to forgo words and replace them with pictures: hearts, fireworks, sad face, mad face, caterpillars--you name it, I've used it. If you think about it, the oldest cave painting in the world is 40,000 years old (pre-dating the oldest known alphabet by 36,000 years) and we have been perfecting spoken and written language ever since. Or so we thought. Given my reliance on emojis to communicate, I realize we have come full circle. Maybe there was nothing to perfect, we had it right from the beginning and all this time we have been chasing our tails. I don't know about you, but I feel so much better knowing that I don't need to scrounge around for the perfect word anymore. A symbol works just fine :-D 

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