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Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary’

In a world where (aggressively shifting) vocabularies rule our comprehension and communication is often compressed into a “tweet” or a “text”, the elegant structure of grammar as an aid in clearly passing thoughts and information from one person to another may be a lost art.  How can we withstand it?  Maybe language ought to be more poetic, about the images it gives us, the feelings with which we respond, the ways we wish to interpret what we hear.  In which case, all those little in-between words aren’t so necessary anymore…

 

I once had an experience with a young woman who believed God wished all people to be vegetarians.  We read together from Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, [that is], its blood.”  She picked out a few words on which to base her application: “not eat flesh” and she said this was because of the “blood” and respect for “life”. 

 

This girl had a subjective interpretation that served her preconceptions.  The last words had more impact on her, too, I believe, because she remembered them better than the first sentence.  She seemed unable to grasp the relationship between one thought and the next, though she used cause and effect words (not rationale, only the vocabulary) in defense of her own position.  People like her know what words sound persuasive, what words make people feel good.  I wonder how often more intelligent speakers are condemned for being judgmental simply because our vocabulary made people feel bad, made them feel that we were dealing in stark absolutes. 

 

And I am encountering this phenomenon in lesser degrees more and more.  A word in a sentence might just as easily suggest its opposite as its traditional meaning.  A word may or may not be modified by other words in context.  My interpretation of what you say or write is just as valid, just as likely to guide my decisions, as the interpretation you intended.  Ideas cannot be comprehended if they take more than three sentences to build and capstone. 

 

What is our obligation to combat these trends?  How much are we the communicators responsible to mind our audience and deliver our messages in ways that will have the effect we desire? 

 

These are the questions I wish to explore with my new blog, “Retold for the Modern Reader” at www.LanguageDeconstruction.blogspot.com

 

To God be all glory, 

Lisa of Longbourn

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If you ever get that craving to find treasure, just for the thrill of finding, get into words.  Open a dictionary, read the definition that catches your eye first, and ask yourself questions.  What did that one word mean in the definition?  What are the root words, and where are they from?  How is that word related to other words that sound or are spelled similarly but whose definitions you never before associated?  Is there a list of synonyms?  How are they similar to the first word?  What variations do they put on it?

If you get really interested in the hunt, pick up a book about interesting words.  There are many of them.  I have been a fan of JRR Tolkien for years, and his books contain many interesting words.  In one reading of Lord of the Rings, I kept a list.  Even if the words were familiar, I listed ones that sounded good, or that had an intriguing spelling – words that stood out.  Then I started looking up their definitions and etymologies.  There is a book I’m reading now, Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary.  Over half of the book is word studies.

You can learn interesting things, like the history of “ent.”  It comes from old Germanic and Norse words for giants.  In those ancient days when the word was in common use, the writers attributed still older ruined cities and half-remembered mythologies to “ents.”

Or you can start wondering about words.  How is dwarf related to orcs and ogres?  To rocks?  Especially in mythology, and very intentionally in Tolkien’s myths, relations between words reflect relations between the objects they describe.  If the word “dwarf” derives from a word for “rock,” then maybe dwarves themselves come from rocks.

EVEN if you are wrong (as I often am) you’ve started your imagination on a great story.  And along the way, you’ve undoubtedly found some absorbing treasures of words and history.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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This week I have been reading a book.  The book’s title is Your God is Too Safe.  And while I have been thinking much about the content of this book, I have also been appreciating the writing.  In fact, as I read, I have been keeping a vocabulary list of the fantastic words Mark Buchanan, the author, has used.  Sitting at work beside a computer, my left hand reached over to type a word, eyes trying to hold their place on the page. 
 
After a list 18 inches long, I began to notice that my left hand didn’t often have to stray from its side of the keyboard.  Almost all of the words that attracted me live on the left side of the keyboard with a brush from the right, a single stroke, finishing the details.  I had thought to do an analysis of these words, separating vowels from consonants to see if the patterns are the same – if the sound has something to do with their fascination.  Or maybe I like the words with certain vowels, the rich round o’s and u’s?  But there is absolutely no explanation for being fond of words mostly contained on the left side of my keyboard. 
 
Go figure. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Recently I was thinking of several words that remind me of each other, if for no other reason than that they begin with L and are long words.  Those account for the first three members of this list.  The latter reflect extra interesting or important expressions I ran across during my composition. 

litigious – inclined to dispute or disagree, argue; desiring to make something the subject of a lawsuit

liturgical – of or pertaining to: a form of public worship, ritual; a collection of formularies for public worship; a particular arrangement of services; a particular form or type of the Eucaristic service. 

lethargic – being drowsy and dull, listless and unenergetic, or indifferent and lazy; apathetic or sluggish inactivity.

lackadaisical – without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic; lazy or indolent

literal – in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical

lambent – running or moving lightly over a surface; dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject, brilliantly playful; softly bright or radiant

latent – present but not visible, apparent, or actualized; existing as potential

Thanks to Dictionary.com for supplying the definitions. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Apparently one of my favorite pet hobbies is worse than unpopular.  It’s irrelevant to the world around me.  I love to study words.  Their roots and history, and how they got from start to present, are fascinating to me.  When I find the etymology of a word, I feel like that word is full of color and life and intense meaning that before was cloudy and uncertain.  When I write I want the best word not only to say exactly what I mean, but with the tone and connotations I intend.  Etymology helps me do that (I hope). 

In any case, being a linguist helped JRR Tolkien.  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens also employed word selection to aid their plots and descriptions.  The more I improve my vocabulary, the more I appreciate classic authors and their works.  I marvel at the subconscious effect their word choice had on me before I understood.  Their literature comes alive when I really know what their language indicates. 

But today, in an increasingly post-modern, non-absolutist, highly individual world, adhering to one definition for a word is less feasible than adhering to one faith in one truth about one reality.  And this makes debate completely useless.  This makes computerized discernment and classification impossible.  In other words, we can no longer test someone’s words to see what they believe.  Either they sound heretical, but were really just trying to use hip lingo and got sloppy, or they sound orthodox and mean something mystical.  In both cases knowledge of what the words inherently mean, and are supposed to still mean, is no help at all.  In fact, it’s confusing. 

So what we need instead of the computerized classification or test such as evangelicals gave to presidential candidates last century (asking them whether they were born-again; how long do you think it took for the candidates to catch on and learn to say the right thing?  They’re politicians!), is real discernment.  People who have studied truth need to test all things, but not with clichés.  They need to pray for God to guide them with His eyes.  They need to be Samuel, who so leaned on God’s insight, who yielded to God’s vision of man’s heart instead of human sight of the outward appearance. 

There is a spiritual gift, like teaching, like giving, like service, and like compassion.  Through the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, those who have called on the name of the Lord and are therefore indwelt by the Holy Spirit and led by Him into all truth need to examine the words of men and discern spirits.  After studying the gift of discernment, I think there are several reasons Paul calls it “discerning of spirits.”  This analysis provides another reason: in a postmodern culture that defies definitions, discerning words is basically useless.  We need to discern (discover, classify, penetrate, understand, identify as true or false) where a speaker is coming from, and what they really mean. 

The other reasons I have considered are: 1.  Discernment is spiritual.  It has to do with the spirit-world, and can often involve identifying demonic activity or influence.  2.  Discernment of a spirit can be of a message, due to the Greek word (pneuma)’s double meaning of breath and spirit.  3.  Discernment might have to do with insight into the spiritual needs of an individual.  Beyond whether an individual is right or wrong, where are they weak and where are they strong?  What is the spiritual reality going on in their life, behind the service and the teaching or the sin and the doubt? 

I believe God gifts members of His body as needed to see all these things, and I believe there is an incredible need in the Church today for those who can identify the spiritual truth of a situation, message, or person.  These people, using their gifts, are an incredible contribution to the community and cooperation of believers.  They are indispensable in edification.  And in a world where there are many books, many teachers, and much mesmerizing media, the Church needs to seek God’s direction and discretion as they choose their courses of ministry and belief. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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