My student, when praising her son’s classmate’s artwork, said it was superb. Her grade three son said, “Don’t use that word. No one will understand. Just say nice, cool, or awesome.” She thought superb was an English word so she came to me to double check. Naturally I was horrified. The English language is so rich in vocabulary that to be left with only nice, cool or awesome is horrific. I know languages lose words and introduce new ones all the time but some of the words we are introducing, like lol and omg are hardly words at all. Then there are phrases like “dumbing down”, which means we are making ourselves less intelligent, stripping away any complexity so that the masses can understand. This process, now taking place in all arenas of society like language, music and entertainment, will simply ensure our rapid descent into the abyss of imbecility. We’ve become so informal, replacing our rich vocabulary with phrasal verbs and text language that it is no surprise that we are losing valuable words, knowledge and culture.
One of my mentors once told me that civilization is going back to the bush and we need to be guardians of the language. At the time, I didn’t understand. How could I guard a language if people didn’t read? How could I prevent the new from replacing the old? After all, Old English transformed to Middle English which also changed to the modern English we know today. English has been influenced by the French speaking Normans, Scandinavians and many other cultures, just as it is being influenced by technology and the internet today. But now I understand what my mentor meant. Even with this natural evolution of language, I’ve come to believe that in the future, our present time will be regarded as a second Dark Ages, a time where culture, art and refinement were all abandoned for the almighty dollar. Civility and respect, lost, as people run over each other in an effort to keep the wheels of capitalism turning. The dumbing down of everyone is evident as we become more dependent on technology; information is not retained as we can simply Google it. I hope I’m wrong about our descent but I suspect not. Back to my student who seemed bewildered that an English speaking person might not understand the word ‘superb. ‘
“Go ahead and use it,” I advised. “Slow the descent into the abyss! Gain a foothold. Hold fast to impressive, splendid, majestic, resplendent, splendorous, splendiferous, unrivaled, exquisite and the very old fashioned, grand.