Thursday, July 16, 2009

Words, Words, Words; Desolate, Desolate

Tonight in my library class we were talking about vocabularies. In the context of libraries, where information and document retrieval is a constant reality, that often means controlled vocabularies. You know how you'll look in a book's index for one word, and it turns out that concept is actually indexed under a synonym (i.e. "internet" instead of "World Wide Web")? That's a practical example of a controlled vocabulary, wherein a controlled set of words is used to represent information. That way, when you want to look something up, you don't have to spend half an hour reading about a, b, and c when all you really wanted to know was x. In the context of a library, it makes everyone's job easier.

But then we got to talking about whether it would be more efficient to just streamline everyday language as well; in other words, why don't we just get rid of all the fancy, longish words that "no one" knows and stick to the basics that everyone can understand?

Does anyone else have a problem with that???

I love words. I love them because they can sound beautiful in and of themselves (pastiche!). I love them because certain words trigger memories in my head. But I love them most of all because they help me to understand and communicate real things. I love words because they don't dumb down definition. They force you to truly comprehend, because each word has only certain meanings. With a real, non-controlled vocabulary, a person can express whatever he or she feels.

Without so many words, we wouldn't have the tools to express ourselves in any meaningful way. We wouldn't be able to know anything more complex than "the cat sat on the mat" (etc.). We wouldn't be able to think.

Vocabulary is such a human thing. Complex minds, complex language. Simple language... can't you see where that leaves us? Vocab is not elitest. It is not inefficient, because efficiency isn't determined by time alone. It is necessary.

Or else we shall all be in a desolate, desolate state. And we wouldn't even know how to express that.

1 comment:

  1. I have a problem with that. Why, just the other day I discovered the word "susurrus" and added it to my vocabulary. It's such a beautiful word that perfectly describes its meaning.

    I'm all for clarity, and I certainly don't like showy vocab for the sake of showy vocab. But not being able to use big words just because we're scared of them is kind of horrifying.