Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bad vocabulary is contagious!

Here’s a local Philadelphia public radio reporter on Hillary Clinton’s then-pending acceptance speech: “It looks like she’ll be finessing her speech until the last minute.”

Finessing her speech?

The less we engage with rich, challenging prose, the more we lose not just our facility with complex sentences, but also our vocabulary skills. Bit by bit, generic words (“stuff,” “love,” “jerk”) displace more precise ones (“trappings,” “cherish,” “cynic”); ugly new usages or coinages (“solution,” “follow-on,” “impact,” “impactful”) displace perfectly good standbys (“strategy”; “follow-up”; “affect,” “effective”); and words with similar sounds and meanings (“ostensible” and “ostentatious”; “refine” and “finesse”) are increasingly conflated.

None of us are immune. Even those of us who continue to engage with vocabulary-rich written prose find ourselves, when it comes to real-life spoken language, in increasingly vocabulary impoverished environments. Language is contagious, and it’s only a matter of time before the last holdouts are impacted, no matter how much we try to finesse our speech.


Anonymous said...

I didn't even know Hillary played bridge.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Ostenstive/ostenible are words I often got confused. I know one of them refers to what language shows us, and the other refers to deception.

At the moment I am doing Phrases and Philosophical Meanings for Quora.

Our inquirers do keep me on my toes. I love the different styles too.

Yes - bad vocabulary is such a meme.

Impact/ful is one I know/knew from church and fundraising.

Oh - refine is the right one in that sentence!

Filing our speech the way we file our nails will help with the germs which get through to our immune systems.

Follow-on is still in the world of cricket. You don't want to force it! When you're India playing the West Indies or Sri Lanka playing Australia.

I often say "materials" in place of "stuff".

And jerk /=/ cynic?

Would tuning up work in that sentence if the speech was a finely tuned machine?

Katharine Beals said...

jerk /=/ cynic, but "a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view" might be less precisely described as a jerk.

Auntie Ann said...

I've heard the Los Angeles chief of police use "conclusitory", as in: the piece of evidence is not conclusitory.

My ears still hurt from that one.