Monday, January 16, 2012


I love words. Always have. According to my mother, "Constantinople" was among my very first words, though from whence--a lovely word in itself--I might have gotten it, I'm not sure. I've always been in love with the the sound of words, and their meaning and the thoughts and mental images they evoke.

We tend to live in a world of one- and two-syllable words, with an occasional three-syllable word thrown in. I loathe the dumbing down of the language, and as noted in earlier blogs, the trend toward the stupidification (there is no rule against making up a word if the ones at hand are inadequate) of the general population is both condescending and insulting. TV commercials for products treating "atherosclerosis, or 'athero'", "atreofibrilation, or 'a-fib'", and "low testosterone, or 'low-T'" clearly state that the sponsors think you are far too stupid to be able to pronounce big words. Well, I think they should take their medications for "athero" and "a-fib" and "low-T" and shove them up their "a".

I love multi-syllabic words: lugubrious, tintinnabulation, onomatopoeia, antidisestablishmentarianism. They may be rather difficult to work into a conversation, but they have a delightful sound. Words surge and recede in popularity, and often become archaic. Words like "Thee, thou, thine, prithy, mayhaps, perchance" have a pleasant sound, and are still in our lexicon but almost never heard in general conversation except among the Amish, Quakers, and a few other religious sects.

Word usage is of course limited, to a degree, by the speaker's exposure to them. Like so much else in life, education is the key to the expansion of vocabulary. Lord knows, with the above mentioned concerted effort to dumb down language, the situation isn't made any easier. The less educated one is, the more limited the ability for expression of thoughts. As a direct result, expletives are often the only words the under-educated have to express their anger and frustration. Even so, I find it sadly ironic that that the dumb-down factor extends even to expletives--though one of the most common expletives, "muthf**ker," has four syllables, it is almost always reduced to the first two.

It is the astonishing flexibility of words--the ways they can be combined to evoke any emotion the user wishes to convey--which provide their fascination. Words, whether written or spoken, can be caresses or claws; they can soothe or sting, praise or condemn, be conciliatory or threatening.

Words are keys upon which our emotions are played, and while their combinations most commonly produce ditties or simple folk tunes, they can also produce symphonies. Single words can by themselves play emotional chords: "mom," "America," "cancer," "puppies."

Words paint pictures. They are both artists' brushes and color palate with which masterpieces can be created in vivid colors or the softest pastels.

Spoken words have a slight advantage over written because the human voice allows for inflection where, even when shown in italics, bold-face, or underlined, written words do not. Conversely, written words have the advantage of being able to be rethought and revised before they are released to the world, whereas spoken words, once they have passed the lips, cannot.

Two of mankind's greatest blessings are vocal cords and the intelligence to have invented writing, both of which depend on words. And words are just one more example of the amazing, albeit all but ignored, complexity of human existence.

The 26 letters of the English language contain every book ever written and every thought ever expressed. All you have to do is put them in the right combinations.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Well spoken, sir! My professors in college used to hate when students would create new, shortened versions and combinations of words. I can only imagine how they must be pulling their hair out with some of the latest incarnations; chillax, frenemy, etc.