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Have you ever found yourself lost for words? That terrible moment when despite an extensive search around your entire cranium, the right word you want to use appears to be either temporarily unavailable, or is perhaps already out on loan to someone else.

Whenever I listen to a person who is eloquent and articulate, it’s like music to my ears because I “get” what they are talking about. Language allows us to share our interpretation and experience of our world. Like an artist’s palette: the greater the variation in shades of colours used, the greater our depth of understanding of the message.

Which is why words matter, and why in our short, sharp, Twitter shaped 140 characters or less world, we are at risk of losing something more.

Listen to any conversation between teenagers today and you may notice a couple of things.

1. Their sentences are short.

2. Their vocabulary is often truncated by a lack of variety of verbs being used. 

We have anywhere between 12,000 to 25,000 words available to us, yet it has been reported many teenagers currently use around 800. Isn’t that just a teensy bit limiting?  Shakespeare apparently had over 60,000 words available to him and used over 30,000 in his written works.

One example of our limited “vocab speak” has to be the hideous term that is used whenever something really good or bad happens: “Oh my god”? Do we not have anything else available to us to express the emotion we feel? 

Perhaps I could make a start with something along the lines of  “Oh my goodness, is that the time? I shall have to make haste and hail a Hansen cab to drive me home…”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ea4CdQPWfc?feature=oembed&wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1&w=640&h=480]

Our diminishing vocabulary has the potential to cost us dearly in relation to

1. Our ability to provide effective communication.

2. Our potential employability. If a person is unable to express themselves well in an interview, they may miss out on that new job.

3. Our safety. We have to understand the real implications behind everything we are being asked to do, to stay safe and keep others safe as well.

4. Our relationships. Trust, love and loyalty are underpinned by how well we communicate with each other which includes the language we use with another person.

Language shapes our beliefs and how we use our language can potentially have an enormous impact on others.

But are we really listening? Do we actually hear what we say to others and the words we use?

I have long been an admirer of Carol Dweck, American professor of Psychology and author of “Mindset.” In an observational study just recently published, her findings were that the language parents use when praising their children as toddlers has a profound effect of their child’s self beliefs by the time they turn 7. Interestingly she noted a profound gender difference in how praise is given which might go part way to explaining why girls in particular often believe that they are “no good at maths”.

Our words are powerful with the potential to inflict wounds that penetrate deep into our subconscious. It is up to us to use them appropriately and adequately. 

Does language matter to you?

Do you ever get “lost for words?”

What could you be doing to broaden your vocabulary?


Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/43335486@N00/5164290661/”>Ben Heine</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a>


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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