Excessively Verbose







Here on the blog I’ve been chatting away about my current life (premature aging) and my future life (hopefully less so), but let’s get back to talking about language for a moment.

I’ve been studying for the GRE, for that hypothetical grad school I may attend if I ever again harbor even a remote interest in academia. I figure that this summer–while I’m doing less than nothing–is a good time to tackle the test. So far, I’ve learned a few insights from my helpful study guide, “GRE For Dummies”: You’re never really allowed to forget high school math–it’s sadly still relevant; some easy questions like “what’s bigger, 3/5 or 5/3” are not tricks–there are just people out there who will fall for them; and, most importantly, my Linguistics degree taught me nothing about language. Literally, I know about 25–30% of the suggested vocabulary. I sometimes don’t even know the words used to define the “actual” GRE words: For example, “Licentious: Wanton.” That, to me, is not a definition. That is two words, inexplicably grouped together, one providing no insight into the other. This is a real wake-up call for any learners of English out there–just stop. Give up! Quit while you’re ahead! If a native English speaker who studied (well, dabbled) in Linguistics knows a mere fraction of the English lexicon, is there much hope for, say, the 16-year-olds I will be teaching in Spain? To quote the study guide, it’s a lugubrious state of affairs.

My brainy mother–who admittedly studied English at Harvard–seems genuinely surprised at my stupidity, if not a bit alarmed as to where $80,000 of college tuition went. “What do you mean, you’ve never heard the word ‘penurious’? I use it to describe your father all the time!!!” I read off a list of seemingly esoteric words to her from “Dummies,” hoping to stump her, but she unerringly delivers the definition of each one. I feel mildly despondent, and not a little peeved that she didn’t whisper a few large words to her womb every night while carrying me for nine months. That’s the fast track to intelligence, right?! There is one thought that makes me feel better, though, and allows me to believe that this whole vocabulary thing might be generational. Maybe people don’t have room to remember words like “contumacious” anymore, because we need to save our brain neurons for more important nouns like “snap-chat” and “tablet”—superficially simple lexical items that spell out technologically complex concepts. My mom’s outrageously confident in defining words like “stentorian” (excessively loud), but just the other day she asked me what an “album” is on Facebook. When I told her this was no GRE-brainer–that it is, in fact, “a collection of photographs”–she seemed a bit baffled. How could it be so easy?

So I will dutifully study up, attempting to cram in as many grandiose nouns and adjectives as I can before test day. But I will, undoubtedly, forget their meaning the morning after. If a memory isn’t triggered, it dies–and when is the last time you’ve heard a word like “analgesic” in conversation?

P.S. I previously griped about English vocabulary here. Looks like I haven’t improved much in a year!