Thursday, August 09, 2007

Where Do You Even Get Such Words?

I was browsing through one of my old theology books the other day when I came across this note on the inside of the back cover:

Isaiah (age four): Why are you talking so glum?

Karis (age six): What does glum even mean?

Isaiah: Sad.

Karis: Where do you even get such words?
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with the husband of a cousin of mine who lives in Germany. He is German but his English is near perfect. We were discussing the differences between English and German when he made the most interesting statement. It went something like this: German is good for theologically precise concepts because the theological words are so well defined. Every word is loaded with meaning. On the other hand, English is good for discussing theological concepts more broadly. English has such a broad vocabulary that the author can pick from a multitude of words to get to the heart of the concept he is addressing.

I find it interesting though, that there is great pressure on English speakers and writers to reduce their vocabulary so that the reader will not be left behind. It seems to me that we are neglecting the part of our language that foreign speakers have found to be the one of the greatest benefits of our language when we reduce our vocabulary.

Shouldn’t we, like these two youngsters, teach each other what the words mean when there is that perfect word available to us that not all have learned yet? Yes there will be awkward moment of “what?” and “where?”, but in the end, Karis now has a new word she can use that may come in handy some day.

By the way, I think Isaiah got the word from A.A. Milne. How dare he write a children’s book with words that the average (okay, above average) six year old won’t know? Doesn’t he want to sell at least a couple copies?

Above: We made it out to the ball game a few weeks ago. Fun was had by all, ... for the first hour or so.

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