There are no words

Language is a growing, organic thing, and words and phrases are added to our lexicon on a seemingly daily basis. After some time, many of these are deemed to pass muster and the great linguistic deities of Oxford and Cambridge add them to their dictionaries. There was much excitement last week with the announcement of the most recent expansion of the official Scrabble dictionary. ‘Ok’ is finally a word that can be used. What an age we live in.

That is not to say that all new words* that come into common parlance are accepted with as much enthusiasm. I suppose a lot of it is down to the individual’s taste. I personally love the recent portemanteaus hangry and snaccident. I’m not at all fond of lol. While the former two actually describe situations for which individual words did not previously exist, we already have a veritable host of words with which to express mirth. Not withstanding the fact that people usually aren’t actually ‘laughing out loud’ when they use the miserable turgid phrase. It’s insipid and unimaginative, and expresses very little.

But I am not writing today with the intention of listing off all the phrases I find irritating. I would likely be typing until my fingers bled in that case. From hollow management speak (proactive, going forward, think outside the box) to horrible meme-accompanying slang that’s suppose to be ‘cute’ (can I haz, plz, doggo) there is no end to offences against language. It’s not so much the phrases themselves, but their constant repetition that gets to me. Playing around with word order and sentence structure is great, when somebody does it for the first time. It’s when millions of people start copying it thinking they are clever that it gets my goat. One phrase that I thought was incredibly clever when I first saw it was (I may be paraphrasing slightly) “much hangover, many pain”. I think the poster’s dread and anguish were perfectly encapsulated in the expression, showing their incapability to even construct a coherent sentence after a night of vigorous abandon. However, I quickly tired of seeing this same structure (much + single countable noun, many + uncountable noun) all over social media, in any number of contexts, none of which required the vocabulairic discombobulation that one experiences during The Fear.

This phrasing seems to have run its course, as I haven’t stumbled into it recently. However, there is one phrase that has been lingering for years like an unflushable bowel movement, and that phrase is the very title of this piece: There are no words. Usually accompanying a picture or article, this disinterested excuse for a sentence is supposed to express shock, rage, disbelief, or sadness, and other such strong emotions. Yet, somehow, not strong enough to cause the affected to be bothered to actually write as much a single, meaningful word. It does nothing to convey any kind of emotion, and is the linguistic equivalent of pointing and grunting, followed by shuffling off head-down and leaving whatever the ‘shocking’ issue is for others to deal with. There are no words? Yes there are. Maybe you have such limited vocabulary that you fail to express your ideas in words. If so, I recommend reading a book. Any book. And continue to do so. Never stop reading and learning. Although I suspect that a lack of capability is not the issue, it’s simply lethargy. Why bother actually writing or saying what I think, when I can just dribble out a pithy, hollow pseudo-sentiment and get back to whatever I wasn’t doing?

There are words. Hundreds of thousands of them. Infinite combinations. Trying using them may actually lead to meaningful communication, over disengaged faux-conviction. Why not try coining a phrase? Perhaps someday it will find its way onto a Scrabble board. Of such things dreams are made.


*I don’t agree with Oxford granting their Word of the Year to an emoji in 2015. I do think emojis are fantastic, as they are able to convey tone in a short text to avoid any ambiguity or, worse, unintended upset. However, they are no more words than physical gestures like raised eyebrows or shoulder shrugs are.



6 thoughts on “There are no words

  1. Spoken (or written) as a true language teacher! Have you ever read Wittgenstein? His “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” would give you a lot to think about.


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