Wordier Than Thou Art

Think of the things in your life that you really cherish. And by things I mean actual objects: your key chain, your favorite gadget, your tennis racquet, maybe a childhood keepsake, a book you’ve read many times, or something you brought back from a trip abroad. Do any of these hold a special meaning? Do any of these make you feel good when you see them?

Some of these objects can, by themselves, change the look and feel of an entire room. Others give you special abilities -try opening a wine bottle without a corkscrew-. These functions and associations give each object its place in your house, and, devoid of them, these objects become clutter. When you clean your house, the brighter, more meaningful objects remain, and the rest are thrown out.

This phenomenon is similar to what happens when linguists analyze pages full of text. There are words that are meaningful and useful, harmonious and bright, and then there is clutter, there is noise, there is darkness and perdition.

On the bright side, there are words that are fun, quirky, elegant. There are words fraught with meaning and color and life, and words that have just the right use for exactly what you want to say. There is a way to write that is simple, powerful, clean, neat, beautiful, much like a well organized, well decorated, proper household.

However, for every filthy house, there is also a filthy word, and for every broken lead pipe, there is a sentence with broken grammar, there are fenceless backyards and there are run-on sentences, there is hoarding and there is verbiage, there are floods, fires, famine, war, and (you get the idea) …

It’s true that some people couldn’t organize their households to save their lives, but they do understand the importance of order and cleanliness. They hire a professional decorator to take care of that. In the same way, everyone should be able to understand the importance of well written documents. You don’t need to be John Milton or William Blake to know good English from bad, you just have to know there is a difference.

Linguists are not here to flaunt their expertise, nor are they here to persecute you for your mistakes. They are here to help you see the light and make your life easier and better.