Since I am allegedly a writer, I naturally have a certain fascination with words. Most of the time we just take words for granted. We expect people to know enough about words to be able to convey something useful and in an interesting way. When man first developed the ability to speak (yes I said “man” – if I’d said “When woman first developed the ability to speak,” someone would have taken issue with me.).
Let me start over.
When man first developed the ability to speak, I believe that the first order of business was nouns.
Our ancestors would wander around pointing and making up appropriate words. Life was good. They knew what to call things in the presence of one another. Alas, the thrill was short-lived. When someone pointed to food and said, “Food,” did that mean they were aware of its existence? That they were offering it? They were going to eat it? If it was a teenage boy, there would be no doubt, but with others, some clarification was in order. In any case, with only nouns, communication was ineffective, meaning was blurred and sooner or later fights broke out.
Then someone decided we needed to describe action. We needed verbs. Verbs were useful in an unfriendly world, even without nouns.
Soon people began to realize that using nouns and verbs together was even better.
Life was pretty functional with nouns and verbs, and people were fairly content. Then, unfortunately, someone had to go and invent adjectives. This then caused men to start comparing things with the expected outcome.
“Big bear!” one man would say, followed by one of the listeners snorting and pointing to himself.
“My bear bigger!”
Adverbs, in my opinion were a reach, and from there it rapidly went downhill. Soon we had people who realized that the more words available, the less likely it was for people to understand what was being said. You could use all kinds of words while virtually eliminating communications! This lead to such abuses of language as:
“The party of the first part, hereinafter referred to as the petitioner…” Why not just use a name, such as “Bob Smith?”
“Crepitus is observed in the cervical region upon extension…” which can also be said as “when he tips his head way back, you can hear his neck crack.”
“Well, if we add a terrabyte drive and add 4 gig SDRAM,” instead of , “We’ll add memory to your computer.”
However there is hope. Samuel Clemens once wrote, “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English–it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
– Letter to D. W. Bowser, 3/20/1880 [http://www.twainquotes.com/Adjectives.html]
This is sound advice, and we all should adhere to it. If the purpose is to communicate, communicate. Don’t try to impress people. It works.
Here’s proof. Imagine a scene reminiscent of National Geographic. We’re silently creeping toward a man-cave. As we peer in, careful so as not to disturb the occupants we see several men clustered around a large screen television. Chips overflow bowls on a table and are scattered around the floor. Empty cans in various stages of crush surround the men. They are staring intently at the television with a look of disgust on their face. Now listen.
“Fumbled ball!” The disgusted look is replaced by a more peaceful one.
See – you knew exactly what they meant.