The Same 7,000 Words, But Different - Deliberate Ink

wordsAccording to Oxford Dictionaries on its “Save The Words” site, “90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words.”

As an editor, I read many instances of authors resorting to describing with familiar words something that could be described by one, most of the time because they don’t know what that word is. Just as often, I’m forced to let those instances stand, because that one word is so obscure today that even in context it won’t be understood by most of the author’s readers. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve needed to look a word up while reading contemporary literature, be it online or offline.

I’m also seeing something that could be called the “green” movement in English: many common words are being reduced, reused, and recycled, as we’ve seen with “friend,” “heart,” and “action” the verb. There are familiar words transmogrified into new usages that, although subject to ridicule, are used more commonly than we like to admit in some circles, like “deliverables,” “pushback,” and the terrible-to-behold corporate verbs “incent” and “action.”

These words and many like them are just as familiar as the “real” words they’re standing in for, but because they’re stand-ins, we have to wonder why.

Is it creative or lazy to “friend” someone instead of “befriending” them? As current usage stands, their meanings are the same.

Is it part of a global dialect being created by people who communicate over long geographical, social, generational, and lexical distances feeling the need to ensure they’re understood by using “old” words in a new way?

Is the verb “action” used by people who want to put a more dynamic picture in our minds than “process,” “implement,” or “do?”

Wonder with me. What do you think is the aim of repurposing words that already have such a well-used past? What do you think will be the result?

This is not a rant, but yours is welcome.

Photo credit: Jon Assink, courtesy of Flickr; CC 2.0

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