Sunday, December 30, 2012

say what?

The good folks at Lake Superior State University each year publish a list of words they claim should be banished due to overuse.

In July on this blog I reprised a newspaper column I first published in February 2010 bashing what I perceived back then as the rampant overuse of the word amazing. As it turns out, amazing tops LSSU's 2012 list of verbi non grata.

A spokesperson for LSSU on CNN recently admitted the list is more about drawing attention to overuse rather than actually removing vocabulary, which is good since no matter how hackneyed, profane, or silly a word is, there may indeed be occasions when it alone seems appropriate to the speaker. In such cases I can only echo that other well trodden verbal path and urge the person with the floor to "go for it."

Living languages, by definition, are constantly evolving. The aggregate of speakers of English will at some point let démodé expressions fall into disuse while embracing the latest neologisms, at least that has been the historical paradigm. It is a pruning process traditionally spearheaded by each generation's articulati, if you will.

Clearly in this modern era, discerning practitioners of our so-called standard American idiom appear in diminishing supply. Still, I have faith in the ever etymological triage that shapes a language. Despite a perceived skewing of our changing vulgate due to a spreading acceptance of familiar yet often inexact words, and the disproportionate emphasis awarded suspect coinages in the media and on the Web, our language survives and thrives in all its blunt power and delicate nuance. Inanity may nibble at the fringes of our contemporary usage, but it will not compromise the essence of human communication.

As I have often explained to language students and teachers alike, it is all one language. That is to say, German, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Ukrainian, and yep, even American English, as well as all the other languages of the world are parts of one big language -- like fingers on a hand. Call it the Human language, for it is in the broadest sense the verbal expression of mankind's common existence on this planet.

Artwork courtesy of Bridget Gaynor

Talk may be cheap but language is paramount. As we forge ahead in 2013, let us pledge "Excelsior."

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