According to various sources there are about one million words in the English language. Approximately 750,000 of them are technical or scientific. That leaves us with 250,000 words with which to communicate. But the Oxford English Dictionary Unabridged has only 170,000 words in it. And I doubt any of us know all of them or use them.
According to the TestYourVocab.com website the average person knows about 20,000 words and only uses half of those in every day speech. Go to that site and add your data to the two million people who have already taken their tests!
It is interesting that Shakespeare used about 30,000 words in his works. The King James Bible has 12,100 different words. And we only use around 10,000 words to communicate our ideas, our emotions, and our understanding of truth.
Note that John 3:16 has only 21 words in it. An astounding example of brevity and profundity.
“In the beginning was the Word…” John 1:1 The Word. The Logos. “And the Word was God.”
You are gifted with words. Both spoken and written.
I find that when I’m angry my vocabulary expands like a Thesaurus and I use that articulation like the sharp edge of a blade. Never to kill but to fillet. To carve enough pieces to leave my victim bloody and helpless. There is no pride in this skill. In fact it is my greatest weakness. Nay, it is my greatest humiliation.
What if I…what if you…used that skill with words to bind wounds?
To give hope to the hopeless.
To give breath to the drowning.
To catch falling tears and turn them into refreshing joy.
To laugh a little, cry a little, love a lot, and pray even more.
You are word warriors. Called to something unique and special. To reflect the Word in your words. To be a vessel made in His image and changing those with whom your words come in contact.
Never let the machinations of this publishing industry cause you to deviate from your calling.
Dianne J. Wilson
This post made my heart sing, thank you for your words.
Speaking of a limited vocabulary, I had to look up ‘machinations’ 😉
Earlier this year, my husband and I began taping a weekly memory verse on our kids wall. Recently it was the end of Matthew 12:24… “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” NIV
Man, how this one takes daily practice no matter the age.
Yep, I had to look it up too! This is my weakness, vocabulary. I hope to be able to arrive at the level of craft where I have better words to brighten a manuscript without bogging it down with heavy words that seem to be there only to impress the reader. I think there is a balance. Thanks for reminding us we have such a vast supply of words at our disposal. I will pay more attention to my word choices!
In my Viet Nam WIP, I’m finding that there are a lot of choices to be made concerning words. Two of the salient ones are the use of profanity, and the use of time-and-place-specific slang and placenames.
On profanity, there are ways around it; one can show the rough edges of some of the characters without resorting to gutter-talk. It does take quite a bit of effort.
Slang was a hard topic with which to come to grips; expressions like “The Z” can only really mean the DMZ, so after mentioning the DMZ once in a descriptive paragraph, it became The Z in dialogue.
DEROS was a big thing then; date of estimated return from overseas service. I’ve tried to use it in context, without giving a description in the narration. There will be a glossary.
Finally, place names. The Rockpile was a firebase hard by the Z, at the top of I Corps. The Rockpile did’t really have another name; it was named after a local terrain feature. And I Corps (pronounced eye corps) was the entity that had charge of operations in Viet Nam’s northern sector.
I want to respect my readers’ intelligence, and not hand-hold them through this kind of verbal thicket…but I don’t want them scratching their heads, wither.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Perfectly said, Steve. I have this same problem. My husband is a camp director and I have been called to write the camp blog. Weird, but this has been the only writing related call that was ever crystal clear. So this summer I struggle to use my words to somehow express the amazing things God is doing among us, at a simple Bible Camp in the mountains. It is much easier to argue with someone! But no, words can bind up wounds as well and express the wonders of God. Thank you for your post. I needed this.
Amazingly insightful. I couldn’t agree more. Oh, and as a former lawyer, I get the fillet thing. Part of the reason the law is not good for me.
Sarah Beth Marr
This was such an encouraging post. Word warriors…love that…particularly when publishing feels like a total impossibility at times. Thanks for your encouragement.
I agree–I love words! I took that online vocabulary test and scored 38.500. We have so many words (many more than 35,800) that are hair-splitting swords. Let’s use the precise word for the specific situation that makes the meaning clear.
dorothy de kok
No Christian writer should be without the Bible and a Thesaurus. Okay, that sounds like two Bibles.
My brother: “Maybe the other girls would like you more if you didn’t use such big words.”
Junior High me: “But John, the way they talk is so inane!”
Brother: (Pointed pause) “Case in point.”
Our dad was a professor and ours was a multi-syllabic household. I hated having to use less expressive words and leave out the humor language can create, but “connecting” with my friends required it. Sometimes connecting with readers requires it, as well. Even admitting such a thing makes me sound snooty, doesn’t it? I swear I’m not. (Would it help to know I sometimes have to look up the spelling of words I’ve used in speech all my life?) I just have my dad’s vocabulary! And sometimes, a word of mine will suffer deletion for the greater goal of connecting with readers. Or to put it another way, I capitulate to the ubiquitous diminution of linguistic eloquence. Joke…
dorothy de kok
Good one, Teresa. I edit academic papers for a living, so when I read through my own fiction writing, I have to change, among other things, all my ‘do not’ and ‘will not’ instances to don’t and won’t.
Words. I like my classical training. I like long descriptions and dialogue. My earthy, machine fixing, perfect gardener husband must have short, simple, plain summaries of 3 sentences or less to be happy. One time I said, “I cannot get almost 8 years of advanced education into 3 sentences. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.”
These years of practice have given me a different kind of training. It comes in handy. In the end this is what I use. I am capable of going between the two but I like working hard to convey concise and precise with options to do additional research with alternative learning modes.