Take back the words

This post, while inspired by the Daily Post prompt: Morphing. Is a bit off topic with regard to the actual prompt.

Last Sunday’s paper had an article about the words that are being removed from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) commonly used as part of college entrance criteria here in the USA. I knew every one of the words they were removing, and was saddened that we are letting some of the richness, and nuance of our communications go.

It is probably a sign of our times. When I was taught to compose many, many years ago, we were encouraged to use a variety of words, it was considered bad form to repeat the same ones over and over again. Say it once and say it right. Add more, different words to deepen meaning and make the message more accurate. In the age of the internet and search engine optimization we are encouraged to try and use key words as often as possible to raise the ranking.

It matters more how many times a computer search engine plunks your content down in front of searchers than whether they get an accurate idea of what you are trying to say. Ironically, at the same time, we are using media that limits the number of words and  characters we have available to communicate (e.g, twitter).

To use a minimum of words to get maximum meaning we need to know a wide variety of nuanced words. Instead we seem to be letting them go.

A couple of examples from the past few decades: “gay” and “tea party”.

Why let go of feeling gay (happy, joyous) in order to have a euphemism for homosexuality? If homosexuality is okay then it is okay to say “homosexual”; why do we need a euphemism? I think the euphemism “gay” makes homosexuals sound a bit shallow, which is not my experience.

We have a Christmas “Tea” at our church because some folks  didn’t want to use the phrase “tea party” since it had political  implications (the Taxed Enough Already political party was in the headlines). My thought (obviously I am a rebel) was that there is nothing wrong with having a Christmas Tea Party, and we shouldn’t surrender an accurate description of our event (which is a party with music, decorations and other celebratory  features that take it beyond the British tea as a meal definition) to a bunch of political yahoos. We use more words on our advertising, we have to say “fun and festive” since we can’t just say “party”. The political upstarts should be the ones who have to come up with a different description (refraining here from judgmental suggestions). Obviously I lost the debate…discussion…argument.

I think people should go to college. We should all learn more, but reducing our vocabulary and the richness of our language isn’t necessarily the approach we should use to opening those doors wider.

Language does change, but maybe we should fight it a bit. Maybe we need to up our vocabulary game instead of dumbing* it down.

*Dumbing is not approved of by my spell checker, even though the phrase “dumbed down” is fairly common. Hmmm….


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