The English language fascinates me. Unlike French or Italian, English lacks a lyrical or sensual structure, even when coming out of Kiera Knightly. Yet, whenever I think I should really learn another language I’m reminded how much I really don’t know my first one.
I don’t remember learning English. I’m sure I was full of questions about it, but I truly have no memories of asking about a word or learning a new phrase. For me, vocabulary exercises are linked to those specially hellish memories of classes which couldn’t end fast enough. Yet, now that we’re spending time parroting things for my son I’ve gained a new perspective on the enormous mountain of learning associated with English. In fact, maybe I need to learn something else because the scale can’t be larger than the jumbled mess of rules and exceptions which make up my native tongue.
The depth of English struck me today in two separate moments of vocabulary. In one, I joked with a co-worker and my little throw-away quip fell flat because of my word choice. I didn’t miss-speak or accidentally offend, but I used a word which required a split second of “wait, what does that mean?”. Jokes that miss large sections of your audience are only funny if you’re Eddie Izzard. I. Am. Not. So this turned into a brief conversation about the differences in our vocabularies. Of course, this was also comic gold.
How is it we can grow up in the same country, with the same language, and same basic educational system, yet glean such different ways to communicate? Word choice is as unique as our fingerprints. And there’s no telling what can spark you to mine the depths of your verbal vault.
This evening my wife began reading a new book for our small group. And there on the first page was a word she hadn’t seen before. Now if we’re all honest, any book that you makes you think will probably contain a word or two you aren’t that familiar with. For my wife, it just happened to be on the first page – which means she got it out of the way, and can now go on with enjoying the read.
The word was: “exegeted”. Some of you are now asking google what it means, and that’s fine. Others of you may do what I did:
“Oh, from the word Exegesis,” I said, and began to offer a marginal definition.
“Exa-Jesus”, my wife says to me. As in – Used to be the Son of God and then got tired of the hassle and passed the role on to someone else. The Savior Formerly Known as Christ. (Much to my chagrin… this is not the definition)
Which made me wonder… when did I learn the word “Exegesis”? Why on earth did I retain this word? And more importantly, how could I better use the brain-space being wasted by words which will only cross my path every dusty decade or so. After all… I’ve forgotten 80% of the math I ever learned. Which really doesn’t matter because my phone can calculate the return trajectory of Apollo 13 better than a room full of 1960s rocket scientists. But, somehow my brain has decided that words need to be pulled to the core while anything dealing with numbers can be marched to the exit.
I am a superfluous confluence of vernacular.
My apologies. Apparently this line of thinking has stirred the words in my brain like kicking an ant hill.
So this is the challenge awaiting my son… learning not only enough to communicate, but also tolerate his father’s outbursts of strange syllables. He’ll have to apologize to his friends for my vocabulary tourettes. Then help me figure out how old he is by counting on my fingers.
Ultimately, I’m just marveling how we all grow into such different aptitudes. How do the same core ingredients splinter into a cornucopia of varied skills and interests? My son learned perfect rhythm months ago but can’t say Hippo. So mostly, I’m hoping that all our instant access to definitions and new information will keep my brain sharp while it hones his into a marvel. Cause I’m still learning my first language.
-Note= No thesaurus was used (or injured) in the making of this article. All these words came out of my head, but spell-check nearly exploded trying to get them right.