Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Lost Words

Tuesday, 27 January 2015
When I was young, one of the things I prided myself on was my sufficiently large vocabulary. At my primary school, very few of the other children bothered to pick up books and I earned myself the reputation of a walking dictionary amongst my peers (in retrospect, this was probably one of the early signs that ink flows through my veins instead of blood). However, of late, I seem to be at a loss for words.

Thousands of the best, most appropriate words for any situation or description have vanished from my mind. This wasn't something that happened suddenly, but, over the past few years a lot of my vocabulary has trickled away like water leaking slowly from a tank.As a writer, to say the least, this is very bad news. I hope to carve my immortality in words, but without a decent vocabulary I'll be carving with a blunt chisel.

I don't think there's a single cause of my lost of words, but I've got a hunch that there are three major culprits: changing my standard to talk like everyone else, exaggeration and tweeting too much. I've immersed myself in internet speak and local slang for the better part of five years and, since here in Cape Town the slang is a mixture of English, Afrikaans and made-up words, I've found other words better understood by the people around me to substitute the good English I used to use. Then, there's the internet, which has its own unique way of conveying meaning (because internet, duh).

Now, I'm not one of those people who freak out when the English language changes and words like selfie are added to the dictionary - language is shaped by those who use it, like a landscape is formed by wind and rain - but I didn't really make an effort to use a well-chosen word where an emoji would suffice. The 140 character limit on twitter makes it quite tricky to use words like "inconspicuous" without running out of space to actually form a sentence. After 10 000 tweets, I should hardly be complaining about twitter's character limit - it has taught me to write more concisely than before and taught me a bit more about storytelling in such a limited environment.

Exaggeration is another cause of my word drain, but I won't talk much about it here because I've already written about this on my personal blog. In essence, telling people how a movie is "THE BEST EVER" removed the process of choosing accurate words to describe the movie and led to a lack of vocabulary-usage.

So, how am I going to remedy this problem? It's not quite simple. The direct, but tedious and time consuming solution would be to pick up a dictionary and start reading (I actually did this around Grade 6, opening to random pages and reading...I was a weird kid). But with university and life in general, I don't really have the time to do that (and I don't really want to be very weird young adult, even *if* reading the dictionary is kind of interesting). Someone on twitter recommended that I try and use a great word in a tweet at least once a day, when I lamented about this problem on that social media platform. That sounds very manageable, so that's my first step to patching up the vocabulary leak on my brain. My next solution is something else that I did when I was younger - I'll collect words.

Like most writers, I keep a notebook with me at all times. When I started off carrying my notebooks, I kept a page where I'd deposit interesting words. If I heard or read a word that I liked, for whatever reason, I'd include it somewhere on the page and those words would creep into everyday usage for me. It was a great, practical way to learn new words and apply them. I even had real favourite words then, like scintillating and melancholic. Nowadays, my favourite words just tend to be whatever I start saying a lot (for most of 2014, that word was terrible. Everything mildly bad was terrible. The exaggeration I mentioned earlier at its prime). That small habit of writing down interesting words simply because they were interesting contributed more to my vocabulary than I realised at the time, and, to find my lost vocabulary I need to go back to its word-collecting roots.

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