General Question

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Who decides what words are words?

Asked by NaturalMineralWater (11290points) February 17th, 2009

Who has the market cornered on what words go in the dictionary and which ones don’t? Who bloated the dictionary with all the words we have in it (english)? Why do you suppose languages such as spanish have no need of all these extra special words? Do you like having the capability to say things in such intricate detail? Or are you more apt to just say things in simple terms?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

37 Answers

mrswho's avatar

Words that are used enough become real they have to appear a certain number of times in different media, I saw a program on a comittee of linguists that choose new dictionary words. They also come up with words of the year and choose from words like “plutoed” meaning to be demoted from a position one had always held. An example they gave was a “Plutonic relationship” (baddum pa psssh)

Personally I love learning new words and the ablitiy to say things in detail, but other people don’t like it so much and end up thinking people who use unnessicarily big words are pretentious. That’s supercilious of them in my opinion :)

YAY words!

marinelife's avatar

I love the beauty and intricacy and possibilities of the English language. I think having a lot fewer words would be very limiting.

Baloo72's avatar

Which ‘extra special’ words are you talking about? I think that most other languages probably have a few words that we don’t have. I absolutely love the ability to say precisely what I mean (though sometimes my vocabulary is inadequate). You should really check out the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis for information about why we need all of those ‘extra special’ words.

mrswho's avatar

@Marina Right on! English, well, language in general is just that, beautiful. Just as beautiful as the ideas that the words represent.

AstroChuck's avatar

Gail does.

mrswho's avatar

@Baloo72 Interesting. How do you think the restrictions inherant in English have impacted our society and the way we think?

Baloo72's avatar

@mrswho I don’t think they have too much of an impact. I mean we are generally able to express our ideas even though we don’t have a precise word for it. A lot of my thought on this started when I read 1984. Orwell apparently put some serious stock into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by using newspeak to limit his world’s thoughts.

Baloo72's avatar

@mrswho p.s. I told you to get chrome: it has a spell check on it.

mrswho's avatar

I don’t blame the english language for this but for some reason I find that I can communicate in writing a lot more easily than I can verbally. When I have a moment to think about my word choice and review it it generally makes more sence than when I’m in person. Then I usually say a few words and flailing my arms around to get my point across.

@Baloo72 how do I do that? Just google it? What did I misspell?

gailcalled's avatar

“Impact ” used to be a noun, for example, and has become a verb because people are lazy or indifferent (says the Decider.) “To affect” works just as well. I have always felt that transmitting my idea onto paper is difficult enough even when I try to use language precisely.

To journal, to suicide, etc..show that almost anything goes, decider-wise. (Inherent, spell-wise).

mrswho's avatar

@gailcalled I just caught that, thanks. That’s one situation where verbal communication is easier (though then you have to pronounce things intelligibly)

gailcalled's avatar

mumble, mumble, garble, garble. I like “speaking” vs. “writing,” myself-wise.

marinelife's avatar

@Baloo72 “A lot of my thought on this started when I read 1984. Orwell apparently put some serious stock into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by using newspeak to limit his world’s thoughts.”

Yes, but luckily in our world we do not want to limit people’s thoughts or ability to express themselves. Thus, our abundant and rich lexicon.

Baloo72's avatar

@Marina I’m very thankful for that rich lexicon too. It does make me wonder what sort of new ideas people would have if we had words for ideas that we can’t describe very well.

mrswho's avatar

@gailcalled I like speaking too, my problem is that it rarely makes sense, but I usually don’t do it to concisely communicate my ideas, I enjoy babbling.

mrswho's avatar

Do y’all think that complex thoughts are possible without language? I’m not talking about communication with others, I mean the thought process contained within the mind.

marinelife's avatar

@Baloo72 Sorry, I got lost in the thread. I thought you were the questioner. What about coinage, which goes on all the time. For example, nanotechnology.

Baloo72's avatar

@mrswho How complex are those ‘complex thoughts’ you are talking about? Do you mean any thought above basic instinct or trying to reason out the theory of special relativity?

mrswho's avatar

@Baloo72 I don’t think that our language is complex enough to simplify relativity. (That’s what I’ll blame it on) so some of us will resort to flailing when confused. I’m talking about the capacity to think symbolically and understand the relationships between things that are not present. Developing beyond the level of a 3 year old.

morphail's avatar

@gailcalled “impact” was a verb (1601) before it was a noun (1781). Words change their meaning and function all the time. When the noun “contact” became a verb, how can we tell whether speakers were doing it out of indifference, or out of a need?

@NaturalMineralWater There is more than one dictionary. Words get into dictionaries based on their frequency and usefulness.
http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=969

But just because a word isn’t in a dictionary doesn’t mean it’s not a word. Many languages have no dictionaries, but they have plenty of words. It’s also imo a mistake to judge a language by the number of words it has, because there isn’t a cross-linguistic definition of “word”. A “word” in one language might be a “sentence” in another.

Baloo72's avatar

@Marina I think that coining new words/phrases (was that originally penned by Shakespeare?) is slightly different than having new thoughts and trying to describe them. I was mostly referring to describing things that aren’t tangible – concepts and feelings. I have many emotions/feelings that can’t be described using any of the terms I have heard before. Thoughts are often hard to communicate (though that is the main purpose of words) precisely, especially when dealing with difficult concepts.

mrswho's avatar

@Baloo72 That’s what flailing is for, it nicely fills all the holes in our language. A violent arm shake says a thousand words.

Baloo72's avatar

@mrswho I think that complex thought has to be possible without words, but those ideas cannot easily be communicated. Before there was language people still had to have thoughts. Language had to generally come from a need to communicate thoughts and in turn the language that was formed reciprocated the process and created more thoughts. Now we are in an endless cycle of adding to the dictionary.
Of course I just reasoned that out in my head, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true

mrswho's avatar

@Baloo72 But could you have done that reasoning without words to keep your thoughts nice and orderly and make them hold their shape? (provided that the subject matter you weren’t trying to reason out a non-existent subject). We might still have thoughts but they would be simpler by necessity to be comprehensible.

mrswho's avatar

Thought without words is like science without math.

Baloo72's avatar

@mrswho I think you just made a paradox. Or perhaps more research is needed. The question is whether young children who cannot speak think on a low level because they cannot speak or is it simply due to a lack of development in the brain or can they not speak because they think on a low level. Why are some children able to speak clearly at two (yay me!) while others cannot speak at all until four or five?

mrswho's avatar

@Baloo72 I wasn’t saying that a child learning words nessicarly reflected their capacity for thought. I was saying that the complexity of thought that necessitates language is that of an older child. The thoughts younger children (some of which can speak) have don’t need language to exist within the mind but those of older children do require words to exist. (Congrats on speaking clearly at 2, I hope to get the hang of it some day…)

Baloo72's avatar

@mrswho Oh, I see now, I think. . .

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Everyone! And no one! There’s no litmus test in English. I used to have a professor who cataloged neologisms (it’s a word that means new words). One of my assignments for the class was to find 20 neologisms (from friends, newspapers, self, wherever) – any word that people use, but isn’t in the dictionary yet. It was great fun.

She used to put them on the internet. Here’s a link to the lexicon another class made. She’s been teaching it so long, many of the words they cataloged later made their way into the Oxford English Dictionary. Like bootylicious.

amanderveen's avatar

Yay! Trogdor got a mention in the neologisms list!

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@amanderveen, i couldn’t find it in the T’s. :-( Can you link, please?

amanderveen's avatar

@La_chica_gomela – Sorry, it was a reference to Trogdor under “burninator”.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

yay! thanks!! (burninator, i love it!)

amanderveen's avatar

@La_chica_gomelaTrogdor! Trodgor! Burninating the countryside!

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I suppose I enjoy crafting wordy sentences just as much as the next nerd.. but I do see a certain beauty too in the simplicity of languages that aren’t so bogged down. I guess it’s a beautiful thing to have different languages to begin with.

The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is quite interesting and reminds me of a question I asked sometime ago about the affects of one’s given birth name and how they behave. Would someone named Frank in any way act different if they’d been named Bob?

90s_kid's avatar

I heard that Merriam-Webster just added “meh” to the Dictionary. Whoever does do the job better get another one.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther