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Vocabulary list

My childhood lists…

A recent post on the Write Practice gave me pause for thought. This site is a great writers resource – its topics and angles are many and varied and the practice prompts are great for taking you outside your cozy writerly bubble and showing you something you never knew you had inside yourself.

So much advice on writing is about keeping it simple; getting the point across in as few words as possible, conveying meaning without sounding stilted and contrived. The post that set me thinking was part of a series called Words on Wednesdays, where we’re introduced to a new word, given its meaning and an example of its use, then encouraged to use it in a 15-minute writing practice.

My mother started something similar with me when I was a child – she’d give me six or so new words and their meanings to learn in a week, with the instruction to use them in speech whenever possible. Her involvement lasted about two weeks but it was the flint that sparked a slow, steady burn of linguistic fascination – a compelling curiosity to know what gave rise to a word, how its use evolved and the different ways in which it could be put to work.

This week’s word was “Indubitable” and it got me wondering… I can’t remember ever hearing anyone use it in speech, though I’ve come across it in books. If we follow the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!) philosophy, words like this will gradually disappear from our vocabulary, as our language grows more and more “dumbed down”.

I always liked the idea of sparsely worded image-rich writing – paring prose down to it’s purest form, but how do we marry this standpoint with the need to stop language mutating into a techno-abbreviated mess of trend-driven neologisms? Suddenly I’m seeing a need for writing as an expander of vocabulary not just as a self-serving mirror of society’s use. One hundred years from now will we look back on the speech of the age in the same way we see the grace in the writing of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis?

I understand language is a living, evolving entity, but doesn’t it need nurturing and protection like any other living thing? We seek to preserve species, geographical sites and places of historical interest – what about the tools with which we convey our deepest instincts, fears and truths – the essence of what it is to be human?

Thanks to Suzie Gallagher at The Write Practice for inspiring this mental meander…