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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What I'm saying is...


Have you noticed that in every conversation today someone adds 'What I'm saying is..' as if you didn't understand the first time? As if using different words might actually help to convey the same message?  But even that doesn't annoy me as much as the plight of poor little 'yes' which has been replaced by 'absolutely.'  My dictionary definition of absolutely is 'completely, utterly, perfect.'

And then there's 'iconic.' I heard the word so many times during jubilee weekend that I ended up yelling  at the commentator to stop. Five minutes later he admitted:  'We do keep saying iconic a lot today, don't we? We really must think of another word.'  You  just couldn't make it up. ( And that's another hackneyed phrase.)

So why, when there are171,476 - and counting - words in the Oxford English Dictionary (see below,) do we resort to the same ones over and over again? I'm not going to go on about kids  saying 'and stuff' all the time because each new generation inevitably creates  its own language. It makes them unique.

The only difference today is that 'text speak' (of which I, too, am guilty when texting) has now become formal language for some who may never actually learn how to spell.  So what, you might say.  Languages evolve.  Accents change.  Even the Queen has toned down her 'posh' vowels of the early years of her reign.

Several years ago I bought a hilarious (or should that be an hilarious) book called The Queen's English subtitled (High taw tawk prawpah-leah) by Dorgan Rushton (Pelham Books, London.)  My daughters used to read it out loud until we all howled with laughter.  For example 'Aim hevving rid Waynne' means I'm having red wine' and 'Laugh-lear sah-vis, Veekah' means - well - imagine you've just come out of church!

Believe it or not, I do like regional accents,  but I'm not sure why every commentator on every channel has to have one. They should,  at least,  include subtitles.

Meanwhile, at this moment in time, er sorry I mean now, I've got to put on the leccy kettle, make a brew and catch up on the latest new words in my dictionary.

How many words are there in the English language?
There is no single sensible answer to this question. It's impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning 'a kind of animal', and a verb meaning 'to follow persistently')? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written as hot-dog or even hotdog?
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. 

I'd better go now - I've got a lot of reading to catch up on....


Elaineyross said...

There's a chap at work that finishes virtually everything he says with with "if that makes sense". How utterly annoying! You can imagine how I'd like to respond but so far I've managed to resist the temptation. Another favourite at work is "and now for the exam question". Really - it feels as thought Tony Blair's spin doctor has been at work, and just look where that that got us all!!!

Guernsey Girl said...

Try adding: 'I don't know to what you are referring...' That should stop them in their tracks...

Lauren Lee said...

I absolutely have to agree with you on this! Seriously though, reading this reminded me of how many replacement / repeated words people actually do use....interesting.