In a book by Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, she says this about language:
“If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator.”
Now, at first glance that seems a little overboard. But, when you think about it she makes a great point. I know I am ashamed of my lack of vocabulary. I’ve tried, and failed, to incorporate some kind of self-help ritual to learn new words. But, I won’t give up; I’ll persevere in my efforts. I do not want to fall to a despot. I do not want my lack of good words to allow me to be usurped.
My facebook/twitter-pal and ex-Bhamian (is that a word? well, now it is), Mandy Shunnarah, used to post a word a week; such as words like youthquake and pablum. She is onto something.
“How many of us, the South’s writers-to-be of my generation, were blessed in one way or another, if not blessed alike, in not having gone deprived of the King James Version of the Bible. Its cadence entered into our ears and our memories for good. The evidence, or the ghost of it, lingers in all our books. ‘In the beginning was the Word’. “ ~ Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
While her understanding of John 1:1 is flawed, I find it interesting and sad that this cadence is no longer a part of the lives of children in our country. According to the Shelby Baptist Association, Shelby County is the most unchurched county in Alabama. David Olsen, in his book The American Church in Crisis , states that only 16.4 percent of the population in Shelby County attends church on a regular basis.
Though I grew up in church and became a Christian at an early age, I am ashamed at how sorely lacking I am in having memorized scripture. Or in having memorized much of anything. I have snatches of verses in my heart and in my head, but I can’t tell you the reference for the majority of them. Growing up in public schools for the most part, I didn’t memorize scripture until seventh grade when, at a Christian school, we were required to recite chapters. Fortunately we were given numerous chances, reciting in chunks, until we got through the entire passage. Sadly, I was always one of the last to complete the requirement. Years later, after listening to the Guess Who’s song, Hang On To Your Life, numerous times throughout my teens, I read Psalms 22:13-15 as an adult and made the connection between the words spoken in the song and the verse in the Bible:
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
This is all just food for thought – I don’t really have a conclusion.
“The young writer will be drawn at every turn toward eccentricities in language. He will hear the beat of new vocabularies, the exciting rhythms of special segments of his society, each speaking a language of its own. All of us come under the spell of these unsettling drums; the problem, for the beginner, is to listen to them, learn the words, feel the excitement, and not be carried away.” – – An E.B. White Reader
Have you heard the beat of new vocabularies? Nouns turned into verbs are used all over. We google subjects and we tweet, though we aren’t birds. We text and snapchat each other, but our communication is often abbreviated to words without vowels; we have a new shorthand to meet the needs of a fly by friendship.
I am familiar with several special segments of society that have a language specific to its members. One of these is the field of education, a world full of acronyms and oft used terms. Overuse certainly kills the charm of some words. I can think of some that need to be retired, or at least put on the back burner. Some of these would be: partner (as in ‘partner with’, not ‘Howdy, Partner!’), relationships, ownership, mission statement, intentional, and unpack. Contemporary religion also has its share of overused expressions, such as authentic, relevant, passionate.
The best point White made is to “not be carried away.” Words are wonderful and repetition has its place. But like a parent who threatens “if I have to tell you one more time”, frequently repeated words lose their appeal and begin to fall on deaf ears.