A few words dominate in the everyday speech of the young. One hears “awesome” perhaps several times a minute. Many things are cool and the rest are boring or they might even suck. These terms do not retain much meaning. After being subjected to such relentless heavy use, all their flavor is gone. Now there is nothing wrong with introducing new words to the language, but allowing them to spawn, dominate and overrun the delightful diversity of native species is quite another thing. One is also never quite sure how long a term will last. At one time it was common to praise objects with “it’s swell” or “keen”.
Each of these concepts has a delightful collection of flavorful words in English to represent it – ranging from the common to the extremely rarely used – but most of those in the middle are perfectly understandable to the vast majority of readers/listeners, though many may never use more than a few of them.
Here are just a few vocabulary substitutions that could vastly improve the expressive quality of the language of those who overuse these terms. Just replace awesome, sucks, boring and lazy with an alternative.
- Awesome: remarkable, resplendent, exemplary, superb, amazing, incredible, impressive, splendid, marvellous, exquisite.
- It sucks: refers to something substandard, inferior, appalling, wicked, repulsive, degenerate, deplorable, loathsome, reprehensible, revolting, sub-par.
- Boring: commonplace, everyday, tedious, pedestrian, banal, monotonous, mundane, undistinguished, uninspired, vapid, insipid, quotidian.
- Lazy: torpid, languorous, indolent, shiftless, idle, languid, listless, slothful, fainéant, otiose.
SAT vocabulary – outdated words or the vestiges of vanishing erudition.
A recent Yahoo news video disparages the SAT exam for its emphasis upon “old vocabulary”, maintaining that words like Sagacious, eclectic, spurious, querulous, mundane, deleterious, venerable and enervating are not used much anymore. What makes these words sound old? Perhaps the tendency of common English usage to degenerate into a pidgin language, a language composed of a meager few hundred words endlessly repeated. Constraining language as we do to this tiny list of overused expressions is much like reducing an artist’s palate to only two or three colors (no mixing) or the musician to a handful of notes.
It is no doubt true that these words have been largely neglected in common language on the streets and in the American media. Indeed, successive generations are becoming incapable of reading the literature of their own language — but is this sound justification for abandoning the erudition of past ages in favor of the insipidity of today’s vernacular? Of course most of these terms date back centuries and will probably also last for centuries to come. The view expressed in this video, that the SAT tests on “old-fashioned words that aren’t used much anymore” could more correctly be taken to mean that the language we use has degenerated.
The writers I read use these words and far more all the time. They are not old fashioned; they’ve just failed to make the cut as our common English language has been reduced to a few undistinguished generic and largely meaningless terms. Together with the media, public school must bear much responsibility for that. These are words that my kids certainly know (not just my two girls but most of the students I have had in my classes and those that have studied my books). My girls probably knew many of them before they could read. These are words that have stood the test of time and will probably continue to do so long after things no longer suck or are awesome. They have never dominated speech and almost certainly never will, or let’s hope not, but neither will they join “its swell” and other oft-blurted expressions which relegate the speaker to a time whose slang will never live again cheff