I would really like to be a writer, maybe for magazines or newspapers or press releases or even books, but I often get discouraged by my relatively small vocabulary. Maybe it’s because I re-read Harry Potter too many times instead of moving on to more challenging literature, but sometimes I feel flat out embarrassed when I ask for definitions. But is it really my fault that the English lexicon is composed of over one million words? Am I supposed to know them all? This is one reason why I love Spanish: it has 1/3 the lexicon of English, and so one word becomes very versatile. A typical example would be the adjective pesado, which can mean: heavy, ponderous, massive, deep, profound, troublesome, injurious, gloomy, violent, cumbersome, tedious, tiresome, dull, offensive, oppressive, lazy, clumsy, fat, gross, mischievous, and annoying. In one quick swoop Spanish encapsulates more than 20 meanings. What an efficient language!
Often times while speaking Spanish I would try to translate directly from English and would get tripped up because Spanish simply doesn’t have an equivalent. For example, one day I was wracking my brain for the word shallow, the opposite of deep. A simple concept, right? Yet I could not for the life of me remember how to say it. Turns out they don’t. There’s profundo (deep) and there’s poco profundo (not deep). If only life in English were a matter of simple opposites.
My suffering self-esteem in the lexical arena is not helped by my parents, who drop impressive vocabulary in casual conversations as though they were wiping with word-a-day toilet paper. I know they’re not doing this to sound pretentious, but sometimes when I hear my mom form sentences that include magnanimous and reticent I wonder if the meaning could not have just as easily been evoked by using the layperson’s speech: generous and shy. Not all of us majored in English, Mom, so please throw us a bone here.
There are three possible conclusions to this tale: