Many Words, So Few Chances to Use Them
by Mad Dog
estimate that the average educated person has a vocabulary of about
20,000 words, even though, like, most of the time they only, you know,
use a few of them over and over. If you know what I mean.
||The new version of the
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Motto: “Shorter is a relative term.
See page 2,498.”) is out and, in the great tradition of British
understatement, is longer than the last edition. The two volumes, which
weigh in at 3,792 pages and 14.5 lbs, are nothing compared to their
full-sized parent, which takes up a whopping 20 volumes. Of course just
because it’s shorter is no reason to heap praise on it. That would be
like saying Swept Away is a good movie because it doesn’t last
as long as Word War II. It only feel like it does.
The Shorter version is actually more
up to date since they added 3,500 new words to it, including chat room,
D’oh, and text as a verb. It’s good that they keep it current. Now I
know the difference between a place where you pick up Indian snacks and
one where you try to pick up 50-year-old men masquerading as 16-year-old
ready to be deflowered virgins named Bambi, that I’ve been leaving an
apostrophe out of my animation exclamations for the past 15 years, and
that all those petitions I passed around trying to have broccoli,
hairline, and Dr. Phil declared as verbs may not be for naught.
Since they have a
rule which says words must be used five times, in five different places,
over five years before being eligible, none of President Bush’s coined
words, like misunder- estimated, Hispanically, ooching, embetterment,
and explorationist have made it in. Yetly.
I have to wonder, though, whether we really need more words. Face
it, we hardly use the ones we already have. The Shorter OED, to use its
abridged name, defines 98,000 words, which is a pretty good deal when
you figure that at a bargain basement $150 per set it breaks down to
about one tenth of a cent per word. Experts estimate that the average
educated person has a vocabulary of about 20,000 words, even though,
like, most of the time they only, you know, use a few of them over and
over. If you know what I mean. Subtract the 47,000 words the
dictionary’s editors admit are obsolete—yes, you’re paying about
$71.94 for wasted, useless words no one’s uttered since Beowulf was a
cub—and you still have 31,000 words which are hardly being used. Blow
the cobwebs off, use a Johnson’s Wax Disposable Word Wipe™ to polish
them up, and the next thing you know you’ll have plenty of perfectly
good words you can use without having to resort to newfangled ones like
comb-over (one strand, hyphenated), bad ass (two words, ten years to
life), and go commando (which has nothing to do with Special Forces
going into Afghanistan).
The new entries came from many
sources, including music (gangsta), science fiction (Jedi), business
(Prozac), and politics (Grinches). Since they have a rule which says
words must be used five times, in five different places, over five years
before being eligible, none of President Bush’s coined words, like
misunderestimated, Hispanically, ooching, embetterment, and
explorationist have made it in. Yetly. They did make an exception to
this rule when they added text-messaging, but only because they knew it
was common in England and not in the U.S. and they still haven’t
forgiven us for taking all those colourful u’s out of their favourite
It’s time we added some new collective nouns to our
language. How about a sorority of coeds, a Bubba of rednecks, and a
palette of artists?
One thing they haven’t updated is collective nouns. These, in
case you slept through English class that day because you stayed up late
watching Johnny Carson’s monologue to prepare for a current events pop
quiz, is a fancy term for a specific group of animals. You know, like a
herd of elephants, a pack of wolves, and a bevy of quail. Also a murder
of crows, a shrewdness of apes, and a crash of rhinos. No, I'm not
making these up, they really exist. So does a sleuth of bears, an
exaltation of larks, and a bale of turtles. Good thing folksingers
didn’t know this or the old song would have gone, “Gonna jump down,
turn around, pick a bale of turtles” and that would have screwed up
children everywhere, not to mention get animal activists’ organically
grown hemp fiber nuclear test-free panties in a knot.
But since we’re in the New
Millennium we heard so much about for way too long, it’s time we added
some new collective nouns to our language. How about a sorority of
coeds, a Bubba of rednecks, and a palette of artists? Shouldn't we talk
about a file of computer programmers, a bubble of blondes, and a staff
of musicians? Wouldn't it make sense if you said, "Hey! Look at
that round of drinkers, that corral of cowboys, and that lot of real
estate agents."? And don't you think we should start referring to
certain groups of people as a loaf of bakers, a bobbin of tailors, and a
rejection of writers? On second thought, maybe that should be a success
of writers. Yes, that’s much better.
Hopefully the Oxford English editors
will see the light and add these to the next Shorter edition. In the
meantime though, they can send out little sticky labels so you can paste
them onto the pages of the one you’re about to receive as a Christmas
gift and make sure it’s up to date. After all, you wouldn’t want to
have 14.5 lbs of dictionary sitting around holding the porch door open
and not know that the new collective noun is an anal of editors, would
©2002 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Read them with your Shorter dictionary handy.