Language Habits

This past winter, I got to spend time with my cousin and her friend. They are exchange students from Korea in San Francisco. We were talking about their experience in the US so far, and the topic turned to language. My cousin said “I think Korean has a much bigger vocabulary than English. In Korean we have so many words to talk about different types of emotions, but in the US, it seems that everyone uses the same words always. They are mad or sad or tired. Oh yes, many people definitely say they feel tired.”

I said “I think that may be more about culture than language. Korea is a more formal and structured society. People take more care with their words. In the US, especially amongst college students, people are much more casual. They develop a habit of using certain words and don’t expand beyond them. There’s many words like tired, each with their own meaning, like fatigued, exhausted, weary, worn out, and sluggish. Yet for some reason, people don’t use them very much, but stick with tired.”

Once, a friend was talking to me about an event he attended. He said “Dude, it was hecka legit.” I said to him “If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to hear you use other words to say what you just said, since you use that phrase so often.” He responded “Um, it was profoundly life transformative,” to which I said “Hey, that’s good! That tells me more about that experience.”

In my own life, I try to embrace more diversity in the words that I employ. An overemphasis on precision in language can become pedantic and even paralyzing (expression of an idea can be halted by an obsessive necessity to have just. that. right. word.) However, I do appreciate the richness that an expanded vocabulary permits and I want to continually make efforts to develop my words along with my thoughts.

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