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Mike Redmond Column

Please refer to the Mike Redmond Column main page for columns published in other issues.
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 One Million Words A Real Mouthful

As I understand it, the English language now has 1 million words, according to the people who keep track of such things. In honor of this achievement, I think it only proper to celebrate with a rousing "C'est magnifique!"

Think of it. One million words. One million chances to mispronounce, misspell, misuse. One million weird little hieroglyphics and abbreviations for cell phones and instant messages. One million tools available for our use in the art of conversation, or what passes for it these days.

It's a lot of words, is what I'm saying - by some measures, more words than in any other language. Yay, us.

Or maybe not. After all, even the most ardent lover of the language has to admit that mixed in with those million words you find quite a bit of nonsense in English as it is abused in 2010.

What other language could give the world Google, recently declared an official word (as in the dictionary) used as in "Google me sometime," which sounds a lot more fun than it usually turns out to be?

Google proves that language does indeed evolve. A generation or two back, if you had said "Google" to someone, their immediate thought would have been not of a search engine, but of a cartoon character named Barney, with those goo-goo-googly eyes.

English is loaded with linguistic landmines. In what other language can you find cleave, which means to split apart, unless of course you're talking about cleave, which means to adhere?

Then there are the homonyms, the sound-alikes that confound and confuse: Aisle, I'll, isle; borne, born; caret, carrot, carat, karat; cents, sense, scents; flew, flu, flue; road, rode, rowed; wail, whale, wale; whether, wether, weather; your, you're ...

And let us not forget the granddaddy homonym of them all, the one gets people crossways with alarming frequency: accept and except. An editor once told me it was my duty to keep them straight at all times. "No exceptions," he intoned, "are acceptable."

With such abundant goofiness, I'm surprised anybody ever learns this language. And I'm talking about native speakers.

Now, whenever the subject of language comes up, someone invariably cites a research project charting a precipitous decline in vocabulary among teenagers - from an average of 25,000 words in the 1950s to 10,000 words today. This has caused much tongueclucking over the deleterious effects of television, computers, cell phones and a namby-pamby educational system in which they have outlawed the fine old practice of beating the children just before lunch.

This is a big fat lie. The study was based on bogus research. Besides, common sense tells you that technology has added a whole slew of words that didn't exist in 1950, when computers were the size of ranch houses and a hard drive was taking the back roads to Grandma's house.

We also have more slang these days. When I was a kid, “Bling” was Mr. Crosby's cousin from Omaha.

Wow. We do have a weird language, and a big one. One million words and counting. It just goes to show that language is indeed a living, growing thing, evolving every minute of every day, and just when you think you've figured out where the landmines are buried, it'll come along to plant some more.

And it will always find a way to remain knew. Gnu. New.




© 2011 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.