Sunday, June 18, 2017

Are You at a Loss for Words?

I seldom am, as you can probably guess. But our current culture is at risk of losing words. And words are a valuable resource. When a culture looses its language it looses its identity, its history, its wisdom.

Did you know that there are more than a million words in the English language? How many different words do you use in a day, in a week - writing or speaking? The average educated person in america uses only about 200 a week! [ Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, by Marilyn McEntyre.]

(Yes, that's what I'm reading now. My summer reading is usually more non-fiction than fiction. And in the winter/dark months I read more fiction. So a little light reading for summer doesn't work for me.:-) This post is based on what I've read so far. Probably the next post will provide more insight into this topic.

Let's look at some facts about English speaking Americans:

  • 50% of the unemployed are functionally illiterate;
  • an average kindergartner has spent more house in front of T.V. (5,000 hours) than it takes to earn a BA degree! Researchers found a direct causal relationship between early T.V. watching and impaired literacy.
  • 27% of army enlistees can't read training manuals written at the 7th grade level.
  • other studies of 21-25 year olds shoed that 80% couldn't read a bus schedule, 73% couldn't understand a newspaper story, 63% couldn't follow written map directions, and 23% couldn't find the gross pay-to-date on a paycheck stub.
  • 44% of all American Adults do not read a single book in the course of a year.
So, what can we do to maintain a usable and reliable language - to be good stewards of words? Above all, we have to acknowledge the value of language. It needs to be a constant focus at all age groups.

Then we have to: 1) deepen and sharpen our reading skills; 2) cultivate habits of speaking and listening that foster precision and clarity; and 3) practice poesis - to be makers and doers of the word. For these purposes we need regularly to exercise the tongue and the ear: to indulge in word play, to delight in metaphor, to practice specificity and accuracy, to listen critically and refuse cliches and sound bites that substitute for authentic analysis. 
While we who voluntarily and regularly read books, newspapers, and Bibles are a privileged group, we need to use that privilege for the sake of the whole. One way we can make the world better is to participate in preserving and enlarging our English language.

So today, pay attention to the words you speak or write and try for more precise and clear terms. In these times, especially, the English language in America can use some rigorous clarity.

Yes, as I read this book (Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, by Marilyn McEntyre) I'll be sharing more thoughts from it in the next post.

Stay tuned!

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