It has been claimed that women speak about 20,000 words a day — 13,000 more than the average man! That sounds like a lot of words!
In addition, one source on the internet suggests that people typically use about 5,000 different words in their speech and about twice that many in their writing. That means, then, that there is a lot of repetition. Words, words, words.... No, but words are important.
However, we need to make a few qualifications, if we are to instruct our children well. Firstly, we cannot just use any old random word that looks or sounds nice or impressive. We cannot simply string the following together and expect anyone to read on: The toothiest, ironclad, chafferer evinced an undealable circumjacence with preendeavour to substantivise a hairtail eagrus...
We cannot use any old word but equally we cannot use many words; ‘more’ does not necessarily equal ‘better’. We may think that the more words we use, the more erudite, clever, insightful we are but if the words that we are using are rubbish, then it will not impress anyone. At the same time, note that we cannot use many old words. The start of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” has many old words but they are not much use now: “Whan that aprill with his shoures soote / The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, / And bathed every veyne in swich licour /Of which vertu engendred is the flour”. Happy?
Furthermore, we cannot really use made-up words. Some may be reasonable but do we understand the poem called ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll that starts: “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves /Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” What on earth is that all about? In addition, we cannot use incorrectly-spelt words. The English language is crazy the way it spells words (“the plural of box is boxes but the plural of ox is...”); while the spelling is close there is a big difference in meaning between porpoise and tortoise.
Finally, we have to be careful how we use those words. Interestingly, a poem by Edwin Morgan called “14 Variations on 14 words” in which all 14 lines use the same 14 words taken from a line by John Cage, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry”. Each line in Morgan’s poem means something totally different but they are the same words. Same words, different order and meaning.
Apart from making this sound like another very boring grammar lesson, what is the point here? Quite simply, our lives are like sentences (life sentences, we might think) and our days, our work, our actions are like the words we put in a sentence. The points made above about words apply equally to our lives and we need to educate our children through the use of words about how to formulate their lives.
We cannot just do any old thing with our lives, filling them with whatever comes into our head, with no connection. Random actions are meaningless. Our children cannot just fill their lives with many things, thinking that the busier they are, the more they do, the more useful they will be. People may be busy but busy doing the wrong things. They cannot just fill their lives with many old things, doing what they have always done, in the same old way, thinking that because it was right once it should be repeated. Just as in Maths we move from simpler exercises to deeper concepts, so our lives should be moving on.
They cannot fill their lives with made-up things, just doing what they fancy, expecting others to understand and accept them. People want to experiment but there is a real danger in that; a slightly-differently done action may be the wrong thing. If they are not careful, they will not have a porpoise – sorry, purpose! Lastly the only way they will make sense of their lives is if they have the right actions in their lives, in the right order, if there is to be any sense.
What is more important, actions speak louder than words. In Jane Austen’s novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, we read: “I have not wanted syllables where actions have spoken so plainly.” That makes sense! We should cut back on the talk and concentrate on the walk. Equally we must make sure that our actions are the same as our words. There is an awful lot of non-sense spoken and written which this article may demonstrate. The reader might even be thinking, “Come on, man; get a life!” (note “life” and not “wife”). But the Word has said that “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” – to the “full”, not to the “fool”. So we must wise up; get our life, and our children’s, in order, now – then it will all make sense. [This article has only used up 816 of today’s allotted 7,000 words.]
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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