About how there should be even more words in the English language

This morning I find myself thinking about the words we’re missing in English and really need. If you think about it, this is ridiculous.

Last week I started reading Holly Lisle’s How To Create A Language Clinic. Not that I even wanted to create a language, it was just that once I got it in my head that it would be interesting to see how someone went about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And it is interesting, and probably really useful, especially to those are writing fantasy and not getting great results from a name generator. But that’s besides the point.

One interesting bit that I read in the book was a whole bunch of numbers. She lists approximate counts for the number of words in a handful of languages to kind of illustrate points about how language shapes thinking–having more words for a thing allows you to think about more shades of meaning of the thing. She brings up the classic example of all the Eskimo words for snow. Anyway, I think she said that English had, like, a million words. And then she goes through other languages and no one else even comes close to this.

Don’t you love English? Seriously, if you’re a word lover, you’ll enjoy that section of the book. (Sidebar: Another interesting bit was something like the average English speaker’s vocab is, like, 20,000 words. Word Dynamo is fun and will estimate how many words you know.)

So the reason we have all these words is that we cheerfully pick up words from all kinds of different languages whenever we feel like it, and we cheerfully invent new terms to talk about all the awesome things we invent.

How on Earth is it, with all this freedom and language addition, that we still have–

“my girlfriend–I mean, my friend, who is a girl”

“do you mean like him? or like him like him?”

“I want you to meet my girlfriend” (who is 53. Does that make anyone else feel middle school?)

And, for the love of all that is holy, can we come up with, and finally agree on, some gender neutral pronouns instead of having to resort to the plural forms?

I don’t mean to be all political or anything. I’m probably only half serious. But it is interesting how freely we’re willing to adopt new vocabulary for technology, but we resist clarifying words that touch on gender and relationships. Just sayin’.

One new one that I love and I’m sticking with is “shero.” In my mind now, when I speak, there’s a difference between a “shero” and a “heroine,” and I think you can all figure out what it is.

Also on my list of stuff that should be made official is College Humor’s New and Necessary Punctuation Marks (via Kait).

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Wrapping this up with a PS. The campaign to help indie author Lauralynn Elliott is ongoing. If you don’t know about it, Kait, who has done a fabulous job putting this all together, has written it all out for you here. Kait gives great ideas for how to help beyond the easy answer of Send Money. However, do consider the Send Money option as well. If everyone we could reach took the time to drop a dollar, it would make an unbelievable difference in the life of someone who really deserves to have good things happen.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “About how there should be even more words in the English language

  1. I agree with you. I mean, sometimes we don’t even have words for things other languages do. Seriously, this morning, my friend that lives there was going on about how “cat’s tongue” is a weird translation, but is obviously a “real thing.” And that always reminds me that there is a single word in Japanese that represents the idea of “one-sided love.”

  2. I think this is really cool. I feel like I make up words a lot cause they sound right. And maybe we should keep creating some. I think the examples you share are good ones, especially when older couples have to say girlfriend, or worse…ladyfriend. *puke* Hahaha

  3. I love made up words. Of course, technically, I guess they’re all made up.

    I loved the post about the punctuation marks.

    And thank you, Susan. Seriously.

  4. denizb33

    Great post – especially since I just finished rereading The Lord of the Rings – talk about inventing languages in all their detail, down to where the stress is in each particular vowel combination, and related forms in the languages of nearby peoples, and so on.
    I like mixing German or Turkish words in with my English if there’s a word that makes more sense 🙂
    And it still bugs me that the Scrabble dictionary doesn’t think ew is a word!

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