Old folk at lunch

Friday, March 20, 2015

A problem vocabulary -- and a partial solution

Many stages in my life have added to my vocabulary.  I was born into an Australian working class home so I speak the vivid Australian slanguage with joy -- but I don't usually write it.

And I am basically a literary type so I know the difference between a dactylic and an anapaestic rhythm.  And neither "eleemosynary" nor "emoluments" are mystery words to me

And I have studied 3 languages so have many words from them in my brain. For instance, I can use Volk and Reich with accuracy and sometimes use words of Latin origin in their Latin meaning.  And a lot of people don't like the ungracious English name "Eggplant" for a rather desirable fruit so call it by the French name instead:  "Aubergine".  But I don't like much about the French but do rather like Italians.  The vastly "incorrect" Silvio Berlusconi is something of a hero of mine.  So I call the vegetable "Melanzane", which is both the Italian word and a version of its botanical name (Solanum melongena).

My odd food words mostly oppress Anne, the lady in my life.  But she has got used to them and even makes her own Liptauer these days -- and has even tried to make cevapi. But she and I share similar geographical and social  origins so I can talk to her in broad Australian -- which is pleasing to us both. When I call someone a "galah" or a "drongo" she knows what I mean.

And my early very intensive studies of the Bible have left me with an extensive knowledge and appreciation of the wonderful words and phrases of the King James Bible, plus a knowledge of theology and textual criticism.  So I know what Masoretic and paraclete means.

And at university I did some studies in linguistics and came out of that with an appreciation of both Old English and Middle English.  So I occasionally use constructions from those sources.  One of my favourite proverbs in fact uses Middle English:  "If ifs and ans were pots and pans, there'd be no room for tinkers" ("an" means "if" in Middle English).  And I am prone to reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English.

And my doctorate in the social sciences has left me with a useful statistics vocabulary -- so I am inclined to talk about "orthogonal" factors and "leptokurtic" curves, for instance.

So with that wonderful treasure of words available to me, I am inclined to use it, where appropriate. The big problem with that, however, is that if I used my vocabulary as I am inclined to do, I would render a lot of what I write barely intelligible a lot of the time.  Most people have backgrounds quite different from mine.

So what I have long done is to write something out fairly spontaneously and then go back through it replacing the uncommon  words with simple words of mainly Anglo-Saxon origin.  And I am pleased to say that such simplification often clarifies my thought and rarely obscures it.

But I am getting old and no longer have the time and energy I once did so lately I have tended on some occasions to let my original words stand rather than revise them.  And that will probably get gradually worse as time goes by.

So this is just an apology if what I write is not immediately clear.  I am however consoled by the thought that everybody has Wikipedia and various online dictionaries at their fingertips these days so can clarify any obscure words with considerable celerity (Latin: "celer" = "quick").

Just for fun, here are a few odd words I have been using lately -- either in writing or in speech:  narthex, vietato, endorheic, spinto, exegesis, rhotic.

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