Remembering our Language Roots

There is an endless array of words in the world to describe even the most miniscule of nuances. You only need a certain number of words in your vocabulary to be considered fluent in English. But the reality is, there are so very many to choose from. And it’s glorious.

Language tends to reflect the world around us and frequency of use is determined by our priorities as a society. Because of this, we have seen certain words deleted from the dictionary, much to the outrage of some and a lack of chagrin from others.

You may recall this incident where the Oxford Junior Dictionary replaced a number of nature-inspired terms for things that are a little more tech-focused.

Over time, language changes. It’s a reality. Words come and go in usage and definitions themselves even change over time. The word gay today takes on quite a different meaning than it did in the past. The same goes for silly, which was actually rather insulting in centuries past.

It is clear that this trend is common and even natural. So why then, you may ask, are people concerned? It’s the natural order of things.

The problem is that some people feel that we are getting way too out of touch with reality, with the world. Everything is virtual and digital and nothing real or whole or tangible seems to matter quite as much. The life we live as Americans is so very different than the lives lived by our peers in other countries. Our values and our focus have shifted and it’s a little scary.

Yes, I’m going to get all hippy-ish on you here.

There are so many great things about our technological capabilities today and God knows I would never want to live in less tech capable time period. Actually, I lament the fact that I won’t get to see what the world is like 100 years from now.

But at the same time, the lives we live feel unreal. I don’t think I was meant to sit at a desk all day every day until I hit 65 and can retire (if I’m lucky). This is one of the main reasons I write. To escape the life that is for a life of possibility. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I write all day long and I interview interesting people who keep my thirst for learning satiated. But sometimes I wish for something new. Something different. Something tangible and natural, at least to partner with my life.

Throughout time, we have lost our connection with nature. We have lost a great deal of knowledge that I believe people used to have. We used to be able to cure certain ailments with plants, we communed with nature as we now commune with our mobile devices and the internet. Again, there is a part of me that believes that the way in which we live is not how we were meant to. Check out this article from Yes Magazine talking about the extinction of words used to describe nature.

Even as we talk about the loss of language, there are posts shared hundreds of times on social media about words in other languages that have no direct single word translation in English like this piece shared by Buzzfeed about words that do not exist in English. This itself is also the beauty of language and it gives me hope. Perhaps we did have a word for these things at one time. Or perhaps it is just a cultural difference between English-speakers and the languages that these words come from. If we’re lucky, all will not be forgotten.

English is a beautiful language with the potential for intriguing rhyme, cadence, cacophony, assonance, dissonance. Words in general are beautiful, no matter the language, because language itself was originally created to allow us to comment on the world around us, to communicate, to share. Though our priorities may have changed, we should not deny our collective past and the beauty of the realm which we rose from.