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I Love My Thesaurus

There are a lot of words in the English language. As a matter of fact, The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say:

“The Second Edition of the 20-volume  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don’t take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”

As my Italian grandmother would have said, “Mamma mia, atsa lotta words.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t talk too much anymore, being of the slightly dead persuasion. C’est la vie, or rather, c’est la mort.

Speaking of dead people, the late and utterly great, George Carlin, noted that there are 400,000 words in the English language, although there are seven of them you can’t say on television.

This was arguably one of the best comedy bits ever. At least it was if you have a somewhat warped sense of humor like moi. (Side note: What’s with the French today?)

Alas, I digress.

I love words and get a kick out of playing with them. Big words. Little words. Although I’m particularly fond of adjectives, nouns and verbs, similes and antonyms can be fun, too.

I especially like to string several words together. Methaphors. Double entendres. Palindromes. I’m easily amused. And that brings me to my thesaurus. A thesaurus is a wonderful thing. Hmmm … if you have two thesauruses, are the technically, “thesauri?” These are the things that keep me up at night. I also worry that there isn’t a rhyme for orange, but that’s a topic for another post.

At the heart of the matter is why do we choose a certain word over another? For me, it’s because, although some words might be synonyms or related words, there is usually a subtler meaning. It’s that subtle meaning that can resonate with a reader, or just me, as the case may be.

Take the word, “jingle” for example (I just used it in an article I was writing). We all know what “jingle” means. Thesaurus.com gave these alternates:

chime, chink, chinkle, clamor, clang, clatter, clink, ding, jangle, rattle, reverberate, ring, sound, tingle, tinkle, tintannabulate

Each those words puts a different sound or picture in my wacked out mind. “Jingle” brings to mind the sound of bells on a reindeer, while “chime” brings the image of a church. “Chime” is a bolder word to me than “jingle”. And, forget about “tinkle.” As for “tintannabulate,” I don’t think I’d ever use that word. Would you? Here’s a scary stat. A study by Pfizer revealed that 43% of Web users are “low literacy” users who cannot understand a page written above a Grade 6 level.

In a similar vein, noted adman, David Olgivy once wrote in an internal agency memo, “Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”

And so it goes.

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