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The Insufficient English Language

August 28, 2010

I recently came to the conclusion that we speak a thoroughly deficient language.

Actually, this idea has been a rather long time in the making.  It started coming last semester when my roommate was dating a very nice guy (of whom I heartily approve, which is completely rare), and we knew he was going to propose, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  Consequently, I couldn’t quite decide whether he was a boyfriend or a fiance (which, funnily enough, isn’t even an English word.  Who came up with this?), because he seemed to be somewhere inbetween.

And so I had to fall back on a Spanish word (as opposed to falling back on a French word.  Darn those Romans for influencing so many languages, and I can’t even speak most of them).  Novio, which can mean a boyfriend or a fiance.  So I figured it would probably work for someone inbetween.  And it’s also shorter than saying “significant other.”  And it also gives the illusion of a favorable impression.  I mean really, how awful is it to meet someone’s novio, and then talk to someone else, and say, “Yeah, I just met so-and-so’s significant other.”  That makes me at least sound like a complete and total snob.

What’s also useful about the spanish word is that at least a third of the population of the Western United States will be able to understand what the heck you’re talking about.  With the invasion of Spanish on the English language, quite a few people will get it if you call someone a novio.  Or a novia (girlfriend/female fiance).  And hopefully now the percentage of people that will understand will go up by about a one millionth of a percent.

Okay, so in all honestly, we really do have quite a few words in the English language.  I mean, we do have three very main dialects of the same language, which isn’t too bad.  This is England English, American English, and Australian English.  I’m perfectly aware that there are lots of dialects from each of those places (like how if I went to Queens, New York, New York, I wouldn’t be able to understand a single word that they were saying to me), but I’m ignoring that fact right now.  Although in all fairness, hats off to all the people who speak Scottish-English and Irish-English.  And Welsh-English.  You are obviously braver than I.

But the problem is that we come up with words for the same thing.  Like how in England something might be “dodgy,” but in the United States it’s “a little questionable.”  Or how in England, Pants constitutes what we call Underwear.  And that in America what we call Pants is what all you British people call Trousers.  Or how we call something garbage/trash, and then in the UK it’s rubbish.  And that’s still without taking Australia into account, because let’s face it, I know nothing about Australian English.  Except that some people say things like Crikey.  Which I’m sure is probably some kind of an unfair stereotype.

So even though we can come up with six different words for the same thing, like a cigarette or a shirt or something, we still haven’t managed to come up with sufficient words.  Mostly I’m talking about the fact that we honestly don’t have enough words to describe emotions.  In all honesty, I can’t help but think that we should have more of them.  Something to do with the fact that emotions are something that every human being is forced to experience.  Even psychotic serial killers experience emotions.  So why are we so bad at describing them?

Take the word Love, for instance.

As much as I love the word “Love” (punny!), who came up with such a dreadful word?  How can a word with four letters try to incapsulate an idea so huge?  And so many ideas so huge?  And why do we misuse it so much when we do use it?  I mean, what do you think of first when you hear the word “Love?”

Romantic, right?

So why is it that when we try to talk to someone about Romantic love we find ourselves dithering around timidly and saying in a very small voice, “So– do you like him/her?”

Pitiful!!!!!  We can’t even get around to using a word that doesn’t even describe the concept!!!  We have to stumble over the concept and then use an even more deficient word.  Like? Who came up with that?  I realize that if we ask someone if they love someone then we’ll feel like we’re overstepping our bounds, but really?  I might be with Marianne Dashwood on this one.

Elinor Dashwood: I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him – that I greatly esteem him… I like him.
Marianne: Esteem him? Like him? Use those insipid words again and I shall leave the room this instant.

Granted there are other words to describe the different sensations of love, but who really uses them?  I have yet to hear someone claim that they are very amorous.  If they did I think I would either give them a very strange look or give them a high five for using a something that resembles a larger vocabulary.

Funnily enough, it seems like we have less ways of describing love than we do anger, hate, or sadness.  And even more odd, a lot of the words we use to describe our less than favorable emotions are much cooler sounding than those that describe our happiness or even our love.  Like the word abhorrence.  What a beautiful word, and yet it describes such a nasty thing!  But maybe it’s just because it does it so well that I like it.  It almost makes me wonder a little bit if we prefer to be angry at people just because we can use cooler sounding words to describe exactly how we feel.

Which means that I have a competition for you all now.  Comment with a word that describes a positive emotion.  It can either be real and out of a thesaurus or a dictionary, or you can make it up.  I’ll send a prize to the winner!!!  It might just be homemade brownie mix (but it is the best brownie mix IN THE WORLD!!), so then I will have quite literally given you brownie points!  😉  Points for originality and discriptiveness of the emotion.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2010 4:43 pm

    hmm… When someone gives you a gift that you really truly want and love and you’re all squee about it…you could say ‘ I feel all cupcakey inside’.

    Because WHO doesn’t love cupcakes! come on! 😛

    *accepts cheese award graciously*

  2. August 28, 2010 6:13 pm

    I do thoroughly enjoy the word ‘abhor’! It always makes me think of that part in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (I think? Or maybe it was Horse and his Boy?), when Peter tells them to make very sure they put the ‘h’ in.

    I also thoroughly enjoy (isn’t there a better way of saying ‘thoroughly enjoyed’?) the S&S cameo from Elinor and Marianne.

    ‘…who really uses them? I have yet to hear someone claim that they are very amorous. If they did I think I would either give them a very strange look or give them a high five’

    I know, right! The funny thing is I use uncommon words all the time in my ordinary speech, because I try as much as I can to say exactly what I mean to say (I say what I mean and mean what I say?) but when I hear other people using them, I think ‘okaaaay, and you couldn’t just have said ‘bad’ instead of ‘reprehensible’?’ and it’s the same with flamboyant/idiotic behaviour: there are things I find hilarious and awesome when *I’m* doing it, and a little sad and unimpressive when someone else is.

    Which probably means in my more eccentric turns, everyone thinks I’m an idiot. Oh well.

    Oh and stupidiocy is a lot more expressive than either stupidity or idiocy on its own. What, you want a positive emotion?

    I vote for the awesomeosaurus.

  3. Allumer permalink
    August 28, 2010 8:31 pm

    Seriously, my brain is so dried up I can’t think of any good word for your most assuredly luscious homemade brownie prize. However, I would like to say that no matter how insufficient “greatly esteem” is, Jane Austen did make Captain Wentworth write to Anne, “You pierce my soul.” Ahem. Didn’t use the love word, but I can’t imagine many women would have a problem with that.

    Also, trailing off of what Saya said, I think that for some reason having a camera on you creates debilitating stupidity with words. If you watch any reality program, particularly court shows (Uh, not that I do – but hey, when you’re nursing a baby 500 million times in a row at 2AM you don’t have a lot of choices!) you’ll hear people say things like, “We was conversating,” and then I almost lose my mind.

    • August 30, 2010 7:46 am

      LOL, that kind of phrasing, “we was conversating,” is very typical of the dialect of English I grew up around.

      • Allumer permalink
        August 30, 2010 11:57 am

        Me too. It still makes my ears bleed though.

  4. August 29, 2010 10:22 am

    I quite like ‘elation’.

  5. August 30, 2010 7:45 am

    I heart quixotic. I’m quixotic in the best of ways and I think the world would be a much better place if everyone were. According to the dictionary, it means “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic and impractical.”

  6. September 2, 2010 5:13 pm

    How about another great E – word: exhilaration?

    P.S – I love this post. I am in the midst of a quest to figure out what love is, in the romantic sense – how you know you love somebody – and I was just telling a friend what I’d discovered so far: that “love” means a million different things to a million different people and that one little four-letter word, as you were saying, is just so completely unable to capture all of the different meanings. I am so baffled and frustrated by the fact that other languages have dozens of words to talk about love, and we are stuck with this one measly little word. I echo your very legitimate question(s) – what is up with that?!?!

  7. Mahfooz permalink
    September 2, 2010 9:27 pm

    I “love” the word ‘flabbergasted’, reminds me of the movie called ‘Flubber’ and the gooey substance in the movie called “flubber”. Loved the movie as a child, but grown out of it now.

  8. September 6, 2010 12:54 pm

    Aah, this is what I forgot to say before, from chapter 10 of Anne of the Island:

    “Oh, I’m so sorry,” exclaimed Anne impulsively. “I love this place so. I did hope we could have got it.”

    Then did Miss Patty lay down her knitting, take off her specs, rub them, put them on again, and for the first time look at Anne as at a human being. The other lady followed her example so perfectly that she might as well have been a reflection in a mirror.

    “You *love* it,” said Miss Patty with emphasis. “Does that mean that you really *love* it? Or that you merely like the looks of it? The girls nowadays indulge in such exaggerated statements that one never can tell what they *do* mean. It wasn’t so in my young days. *Then* a girl did not say she *loved* turnips, in just the same tone as she might have said she loved her mother or her Savior.”

    • Umm Ammar permalink
      September 10, 2010 10:39 am

      Oh wow! A reference to my very own darling, Anne! I am ecstatic!!

      In regards to the post– so very true! Hubby and I often resort to MANY other languages to describe our feelings. But ‘love’ is one word I truly believe transcends language. I believe it is perfectly expressed in a rapturous smile or that shining eye look and the height of love is when you’re able to see a combination of the above two on the face of someone in front of you.

      Ahh, but then again– it’s so much more.


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