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Distortion of a sense of a word

Horsch is a first-year news/Internet major and can be contacted at lauren.horsch@drake.edu

As classes started, there were a lot of new concepts thrown at students by eager professors. One such concept was brought up recently in my history class. My professor was discussing why she felt that having a “word of the week” was important. She threw out a term that I was not familiar with: verbicide.

Verbicide by definition deals with the distortion of words in some context. Though, the connotation of the word lends itself to the death of a word. Now, my professor discussed with us how languages change, and why we thought that verbicide was present in today’s society (or for some people, why they thought it was not visible).

Thinking back on my education before coming to Drake, I always had to learn vocabulary words in some class. Sure, some of the words overlapped, but there was always an effort to teach a stronger vocabulary. Some words were superfluous and made very little sense, but learning the words helped. I had teachers that challenged me to use new words in my writings and in daily language just to test my skill.

My professor cited a statistic that said that the average student entering college now has a 10,000-word vocabulary instead of 25,000 of previous generations.

So, in a world of 140-character Twitter updates and being confined to 160-characters in a text message, are we losing our vocabulary? With additions being made in the dictionary every year, one could argue that no, we’re not losing our vocabulary, but rather changing it. Our 21st century vernacular is vastly different than that of our grandparents’ or even of our parents’. The days of rotary phones have transitioned to smart phones; the days of owning a rolodex have morphed into a simple contact list on your phone. With these simple changes, the language has to change, too.

But does that mean we have to lose our grasp on words that once graced literature and everyday conversation?
Of course not.

American linguist, Benjamin Lee Whorf, once said: “Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.” In my mind, Whorf is very correct with this notion. Language has to change when the world around us changes. The eloquence of language doesn’t change, but rather becomes a hidden trait under a daily routine of spurting out singular words that can describe anything at the moment.

Just think about how many times in a day you say ‘cool’ or even ‘like.’ You might be astounded at the number of times those words have slipped from your lips by the end of the day. Verbicide, whether real or perceived, will cause issues down the road for everyone. Instead of being able to communicate in a fluid manner, speech will become uniformly bland. Personally, I’m still on the fence about whether verbicide is happening, but I’m going to be sure to examine the things I say and see if there is any way I could alter my words to get my point across more clearly.

My challenge to you, though, is to just think about a word you’ve read and thought was unique or interesting. Now use that word throughout the week or day or, heck, even month to see if it stays in your workable vocabulary. By no means am I suggesting reading a dictionary to further your knowledge, but just try it once.

And just in case you were wondering, my word of the week is ‘cacophony.’


Horsch is a junior news/Internet and rhetoric double major. She serves as the TD's Editor-in-Chief. She has been on staff for three years and has been the editor since January 2012.

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