Content EditingWriting

The People vs. The English Language

Occasionally (or maybe not so occasionally), I am called out for being a “nag” when it comes to proper word usage. In my former life as a litigator, I became accustomed to pointing out and correcting every instance of improper spelling, grammar, and word usage. Words mean something. Their meanings mean something. Nothing grinds my gears more than the flippant (or even blatant) misuse of a perfectly well-meaning word. Except maybe the overuse of said word.

Not everything is “amazing” or “awesome.” The overuse of some words can eventually lead to their degradation. Be honest, when you use the word, “amazing,” do you really mean that something or someone caused you astonishment, great wonder, or surprise? I doubt it. What about “awesome?” Suzy’s new jeans may be very on trend, but do they really “inspire awe?”

Words are literally man’s best friend. By the way, I am not using the word “literally” here to be ironic. I’m completely serious. Without the spoken word (and okay, maybe the wheel and the iPhone), where would the human race even be today? Sure, we still have a long way to go towards world peace, but language offers human beings a truly awe inspiring (see what I did there?) leg up when it comes to communication, task management, and even self-expression.

I would never claim to have the most advanced or broad vocabulary. I know (and use) far too many pointless acronyms and millenialisms for my own good. But at the same time, with every word we acquire, we grant ourselves that much more freedom; that much more clarity.

Everyone has heard the somewhat dubious claim that Eskimos have something like 50+ words for snow. But think about that. Think about how freeing it must be to be able to describe the exact color, temperature, texture, and gravity of each and every weather pattern. Think how few snow-based miscommunications are likely to occur in these cultures. What’s to argue about when both sides understand exactly what is being discussed?

When we use words as they were intended, we present the best possible chance for effective communication. When we use words interchangeably and with no thought to the intention behind their conception, we are communicating something entirely different: ignorance, laziness, and even arrogance.

There is no shame in an honest mistake or misquote. There is, however, something truly saddening about the passive (or even intentional) cheapening of our words. Don’t get me wrong, I may shout “YAAASS KWEEN” with the best of them, but I’d never be caught dead uttering the “word,” irregardless.

By: Liz S., On Demand Editor for editorr

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