By Pablo Blaringhem
Donald Trump talks like an elementary school student. Thankfully for all parties involved, this is neither a purposefully controversial hook or the beginning of a political op-ed, but simply an observed fact. As communication technology and the Internet continue to develop at a brisker pace than ever, it is the ironic truth that the most widespread language in the world is rapidly degenerating into a murky word salad, and, as redundant as this may sound, the simplest answer may lie in a fairly manageable increase in basic literary entertainment. In layman terms, read a book before we start using hieroglyphs again, in the form of emojis.
The purpose of language is communication. Words are nothing but sounds to which we have attributed specific meanings in an effort to make people understand each other; we know, for example, that “blue” refers to the color most often associated with the sky. The more specific words get, the more a language becomes effective as one can communicate with it as accurately as possible. This is where the problem arises; take the recent and infamous case of literally. According to the good old Webster: “In a literal sense or manner; actually”. This is what the sound was, if you will, literally supposed to represent. However, “since 2005, Google searches for literally have more than quadrupled” (Lewis). In other words, the use of the word has become so muddled and casual that nobody seems to know how to really use it anymore; “the word literal can no longer be taken literally” (Tweeling). Other examples include though, now frequently spelled tho, the expression low-key, which has received the same treatment as literally (“I’m low-key dying right now”) or decimate, which has somehow been warped into destroy. Also still present are like, y’know, right, and my favorite: that, like, excruciatingly painful habit people show off literally all the time of, y’know, starting a new sentence, realizing that they low-key have nothing interesting to say and cutting off with a … yeah. Right?
So the English vocabulary is taking quite the dip. The reason for this is simple: people, especially children, aren’t reading as much as they used to. According to literacy and child development specialist Tom Nicholson, “reading is coming to be seen as boring and useless” (Staff). I’m sure many people feel this way as they read this, but we’re not here to debate that. The same studies that led to this statement showed, just from 2000 to 2008, a 10% decrease in seventh-grade students interviewed who considered reading one of their top three pastimes, with only 20% doing so. Even fewer of them were inclined to use dictionaries – let alone the Internet – to find the meanings of new words, either heard on the radio, in songs, movies, games, or their most abundant source simply due to being entirely made up of words: books.
Of course, the question does arise: do we need a large vocabulary to function in society? Surely the fact that the current president of the United States got elected with such a dull lexicon completely invalidates the need for one?
Well, in a way, that is accurate. No, you do not need an expansive vocabulary. Then again, you don’t need both arms or even sight and can get along well enough without these in our current society. On the other hand, would it not be be such a livelier world if we all had both arms and sight? The same is true for vocabulary.
“Possessing a good vocabulary enables and empowers people of all ages to be understood in social, educational and work situations. It would stop a lot of fights in the playground and in life if people had the ability to express themselves with words more competently” (Staff).
From politics to understanding jokes and impressing people at parties, there is no context where a broadened glossary isn’t useful, so I implore you: augment your linguistic skills through quotidian partaking in belletristic entertainment.
- Burleigh, Nina. “Trump Speaks at Fourth-Grade Level, Lowest of Last 15 U.S. Presidents, New Analysis Finds.” Newsweek, 26 Feb. 2019, www.newsweek.com/trump-fire-and-fury-smart-genius-obama-774169.
- Freeman, Suzannah Windsor, et al. “5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary.” Write It Sideways, 9 Jan. 2016, writeitsideways.com/5-simple-ways-to-improve-your-vocabulary/.
- Lewis, Adam. “Using ‘Literally’ Metaphorically Is Literally Spreading like Wildfire | Mind Your Language.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Oct. 2014, www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2014/oct/24/mind-your-language-literally.
- Shea, Ammon. “Vocabulary Size.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Mar. 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/magazine/14FOB-onlanguage-t.html.
- staff, Science X. “Vocabulary on Decline Due to Fewer Books.” Phys.org, Phys.org, 20 Sept. 2010, phys.org/news/2010-09-vocabulary-decline-due.html.
- Tweeling, Kwade. “The Decline of American English Is Self-Inflicted.” Owlcation, Owlcation, 26 July 2017, owlcation.com/humanities/The-Decline-of-American-English-is-Self-Inflicted.