11.10.09 by Cypy + 65 comments!

I might be thinking about this too hard for what it’s worth, but I believe that expanding one’s vocabulary solely for the purpose of learning more words is overrated. I enjoy reading material that is well-written, and it is often the case that well-written material happens to have a more varied vocabulary than a poorly-written material. On the other hand some material can contain a slew unusual words and ALSO be poorly-written. One reason for this is the overuse of complex synonyms for simple words, or what I will term synonymitis. I can understand that there are many words that may mean the same thing, and that some of them sound fun and extra-fancy, but I believe that using wordy, flowery, elaborate, pompous, grandiloquent, flashy, showy (etc.) language, can sometimes get in the way of meaning. I don’t oppose flowery language—I think it is nice to learn different words—but, as I said, it is overrated.

I like to think of learning words this way: if the new word in question adds more meaning, and is not simply a synonym, then it is worth learning. Some words are worth more than others. The words I enjoy learning the most, are the ones with the most specific meanings. For example, let’s pretend I want to say “this hardy and delicious early-morning breakfast  is very satisfying.” There are multiple meanings that I conveyed in the sentence. One meaning is the time “early morning.” Another meaning is the type of meal “breakfast.” Breakfast implies “morning” but it doesn’t imply “early;” it is a non-specific time. Let’s say there is a hypothetical word that means “early breakfast.” If there was, I would use it because I could then eliminate “early morning” and shorten the sentence. Let’s say there is a hypothetical word for “hardy, delicious, early breakfast.” I could further shorten the sentence, without taking away meaning by using that word. We can be even more concise! Now let’s think about a hypothetical verb that encapsulates the entire meaning of that sentence. The verb is ONLY used to express satisfaction for a hardy, delicious, early-morning breakfast. This word might feel neglected because it doesn’t come up very often, but when it does, it is the BEST word for the situation, hands down. The most specific wins.

Now I’ll switch from hypotheticals to realism. Imagine I am explaining an area in the forrest that was bulldozed. I might say “they bulldozed an area of the forrest.” The word “area” works fine, but it is generic. In the case that I brought up, it would be more fitting to use “swath.” Saying “swath” implies that I am talking about a patch of land, plus, it refers to not just any old shape, but usually a long stretch of land (bonus!), and it usually refers to a stretch of land that has been mown or cut (double-bonus!). The replacement of “area” with “swath,” in this case, actually adds meaning to the idea I am trying to convey.

Hooray for specific words!

fonetik spling

1.11.09 by Cypy + 94 comments!

Recently, I was cleaning off some bookshelves and I found a treasure trove of old papers I had written back when I was very young. I found one in particular that is fascinating because I spelled almost every word phonetically when I was first learning to write; my parents didn’t emphasize my spelling “properly” until I was about 11, but instead, let me spell words how I wanted. I traveled up to KU with one of my home schooled friends, Walter Morris, and our assignment was to write a story about a painting that featured some morbidly obese people. Here is what I wrote (verbatim):

the pinzon family by Fernando botero

wuns ther wus sum bulbous pepel and a bulbous dog thay wer very hapy then sudently thay relisd that thay shood stort eteing mor leen food but thay wor so udiktid to ther ushuwol ritchuwol that thay nevr did win thay got to fat to wok thay got srvins to kery them but thay soon got way to hevy and thay got even hever so thay had to mak ther flor much stroingr but befor thay kud do ineething thay got so fat thay fel rit aslep

the end

In case you had trouble with any of those words, here is a translation:


The Pinzon Family by Fernando Botero

Once there was some bulbous people and a bulbous dog—they were very happy. Then, suddenly, they realized that they should start eating more lean food, but they were so addicted to there usual ritual that they never did. When they got too fat to walk they got servants to carry them, but they soon got way to heavy (and they got even heavier) so they had to make their floor much stronger, but before they could do anything they got so fat they fell right asleep.

The End

If you are curious, here are some examples of Fernando Botero’s paintings:

Language… HA!

5.16.08 by Tim + 83 comments!

a while back i read some of this book called “The Four Agreements” by a guy named Miguel A’ngel Ruiz, explaining how he expected you to straighten out your life. It wasn’t very good, but one of the agreements, “Be impeccable with your word” taught me something pretty useful about language. Basically, when we use language, we’re taking advantage of thousands upon thousands of little implicit agreements about the meaning of words and phrases. When I use the word “agreement,” I have an implicit agreement with the rest of humanity about what exactly that means, and because you understand the agreement, you understand the idea I’m trying to convey.

But really what this post is about is questioning what words actually mean. Example- A while back a friend of mine named Michael told me that he hates it when people use the word “natural.” Basically it distinguishes between human works and natural processes, and because humans are a part of nature, anything they do is technically natural. It really bothers me when people use arguments like this. by destroying the distinction between human and nature, you’ve destroyed the meaning of the word “natural.” the agreement you have with the rest of humanity over what it means has been broken. So even if its important to understand that humans are an integral part of nature, its not worth completely dropping the word natural. If you want to distinguish between humans and other natural things, use the words “natural” and “unnatural,” and everyone will understand what you mean.

When you talk about the makeup of matter at an atomic level, its important to realize that all solid objects are really mostly empty space, with interacting atoms in between that hold together in more or less the same shape overall. Look at your computer screen- most of that is empty space! but there are enough atoms there that they can reflect all the light that would otherwise come through. The traditional concept of a “solid” just snapped in half (i could hear it). So what happens to the word solid? Can we ever call something solid again? YES. we can. absolutely. everything that used to be solid is still solid; in the way humans can see the world, nothing has changed. When I say my computer screen is solid, our agreements tell you exactly what i mean. Even if it’s mostly empty space, its still what we call “solid”- even if that means something a little different than we used to think.

So. Stop trying to deconstruct words at other people. You can do it yourself just to learn something, by coming to a better understanding of what you really mean, but when you tell me about it, it just gets old. seriously, i already understand pretty well what I mean when I’m talking, considering the technical aspects of how words are defined doesn’t change their meaning. It doesn’t. So don’t do it.