If I had it to do over, I might consider majoring in linguistics. I am
fascinated by the way language has developed and by the thousands of
different languages there have been around the world. One source on the
Web lists 950 languages being spoken today.
I have always wondered what the first cave men said to each other.
Probably it was something like, "Ugh," meaning "Hey, watch your back.
There's a woolly mammoth coming." And there are those who believe that
Adam said "OK, I'll try it," in perfect English.
The need of human beings to communicate with each other is
universal. I have to admit that the only people I can communicate
are the 358 million others who speak English. Fortunately many people
around the world are fluent in more than one language.
English is a beautiful and expressive language, and it is highly
flexible -- sometimes too flexible.
A friend sent me an interesting comparison of word use in English,
called "The Power of Words.
Pythagorean theorem 24 words
the Lord's prayer 66 words
Archimedes' principle 67 words
the ten commandments l79 words
the Gettysburg address 286 words
the Declaration of Independence 300 words
federal regulations on the sale of cabbage 26,900 words
My friend the philosopher commented over coffee one day that it's not
the rules but the details that make us so wordy. We do have a lot of
details. We like to use 20 words to say what we could say in two. But
I doubt that there are enough words in any language to make me
understand Pythagorus' theorem.
A living language is constantly growing and changing of course, but the
changes should make it easier to understand and more beautiful to listen
The English language is under siege today by several very weird trends
that do exactly the opposite. One is what we might call
"organizationeze," not unrelated to "pedagogese." We are inventing new
words and new uses for words, not for clarity, but for obfuscation.
The business and education communities seem to be inventing their own
One thing that bothers me is the habit of changing the meanings and
tenses and parts of speech of words, particularly creating verbs out of
Take my personal pet peeve, "ize." The suffix "ize" is a means of
turning nouns or adjectives into verbs. In some well-established forms
such as formalize, criticize, jeopardize, and hospitalize it makes
sense. But words like accessorize, incentivize, privatize, prioritize
and others not yet thought of are imprecise in meaning and lack
I am not alone. Harper's Dictionary of Contemporary Usage has a panel
of experts who give their opinions on various items of English usage.
Their opinion of prioritize is 99% negative, with such comments as,
"Barbarous," "izing" nouns in this fashion is an abomination," "another
barbarism like most 'ize' constructions," and on and on.
One my favorites was an ad I heard one day on the radio for a savings
account which is collateralized. I think I would want to stay away from
that bank. Another which I have heard here in Happy Valley is
capacitize. That one means, so far as I can tell, "to make an
auditorium full!" -- to capacity, that is -- I think.
Then there is that commonly used "proactive." There is no such word as
"proactive" according to Webster. If there were, the prefix pro means
favoring the affirmative side, defending, supporting. That would mean
proact means defending some action. It is generally used, however
inaccurately, to mean one should act rather than re-act. What's the
matter with "act?"
Recently I read a book review in which the reviewer liked the book, but
complained that the indexation was poor. So was the review.
I am no linguist and I certainly do not pretend to speak perfect
English. I do, however, respect the language and I like to hear it
spoken and written as accurately and concisely as it can be.
So let's prioritize our subject matter irregardless of the overview and
proactively interface with our friends as we collateralize our risks in
this time frame, and, as my Phoenix son says, boldly go where no
language has ever gone before.