Word of the Week – Words That Work (and the writers who use them)

by admin on January 4, 2012

Cat - noun (Middle English from Old English) a small domesticated carnivore, as well as a person, the Caterpillar Company, and a jazz enthusiast.

Reflections on Language in America
The way we humans use language (derived from the Latin lingua, “language, tongue” via Old French) is dynamic, and English speakers are no exception. By its very nature ours is a language of mixed ancestry drawing heavily from Germanic (Anglo-Saxon), Latin, and Old Norse roots, with embellishments from Romance languages, as well as words of Hindi and African orgin. With each wave of immigrants to this nation of immigrants, American English absorbs new words and phrases that  become part of our vernacular and enrich our vocabulary.

In this blog, I hope to explore language and how we use it in everything from classic literature to social commentary and the many aspects of marketing, including but not limited to advertising, public relations and social media. To spur thought and discussion, I’ll be pulling examples from what people write and say, and I hope you will, too:  the good, the bad and the ugly. Given the political discourse we have already endured in the Republican primary race, I predict that there will be plenty of fodder for us to draw upon in 2012. My hope is to expand our vocabularies, to correct common mistakes (I have my favorites as I’m sure you do), and to make us better communicators.

It’s a lofty goal but one that others have tackled with some degree of success. Two that come to mind are William Safire and James J. Kilpatrick. While I never shared their politics, I always found their columns on language to be thought-provoking. I am in no way presuming that a directionally-challenged marketing executive and writer living in Western North Carolina can fill their very large shoes. What I am suggesting is that by engaging in a discussion about language we just might fall in love with words, again. I’m talking about words that we vaguely recall from high school vocabulary quizes and seldom use, words that have more than four letters, words that are evocative, persuasive and compelling. I hope you will join me in the search and the discussion.

I started this first post with a reference to the influence immigrants have had on our language. With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to feature Pete Hamill, the great American journalist, novelist, essayist, editor and educator and an excerpt from a 2010 lecture at New York University entitled “They Are Us:  A Plea For Common Sense About Immigration.”

“The (Mexican) drug war with its savagery — hundreds of decapitations by now — is a horror to all of us who love Mexico and Mexicans. And to millions of Mexicans. But every intelligent observer knows what is driving it:  the enormous appetite of so many Americans to spend all or part of  each day in a state of unearned rush or stupor. Supply is driven by demand.”

Stupor – noun (from Middle English, Latin) 1: a condition characterized by great diminution or suspension of sense or feeling (drunken) 2: a state of extreme apathy or torpor resulting often from stress or shock:  DAZE

 

 

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