Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vocabularies (How big is yours?)

Came across a news story today that made me kind of sad. So let me start here instead:

According to the obviously-well-informed comedian John Branyan, Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words. And, according to his sources, the average American currently has a vocabulary of  3,000 words. (You can see where he says this a little later on. 'Cause I'm not making it up!)

That's a big difference.

To look at early American school primers, those little tykes had to tackle some pretty hefty material. Catechisms introduced a whole new slew of words to children. And the history lessons of the time meant that worlds unfolded in - what seems to us - verbose and instructive repetition. But it also meant they knew more words.

And so today, after several centuries of diminishing vocabularies, came this news report:

Apparently, a list of words used by Homeland Security to monitor potential threats was released today and this list has been published to suggest maybe you don't want to use them because ... well, I won't retell the story. 

I looked through the list and must confess that terms like "mara salvatrucha" don't show up much in my word choices. (In fact, I'm going to have to look up what it means.) But "phishing", "cancelled" and "sick" are relatively well used. (And "smart"? Please. Every time I write I bio - ha!) 

So here's my worry. Americans are losing track of their vocabularies. Yes, new words slip in all the time but it seems like they are falling off the back end at a disproportionate rate. And we want to suggest a group of words that they DON'T use?  

So in the interests of putting a little "oomph" back in your word choices, here's the verbose and hysterically funny version of John Branyan's "Three Little Pigs."  

Now go eat a dictionary. 

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