Hypertextbook.com says that an average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week. Most sources say that the English language contains between 600,000 to over 1 million words depending upon how you count. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) Not only do most of us use less than 3% of available words, we employ them poorly. And when I say “we,” I mean “me, myself and I.”
As a charter member of the Failed Writers Society, I recognize my repetitive, trite speech and writing patterns especially when I come across informative reading matter.
A recent article from The New Yorker entitled Alone in the Alps by James Lasdin described the connection between the Via Alpina trail in Europe and its rich culture as follows:
“That sense of multiplicity is still strong. The Rockies may offer wilder wilderness, but you don’t experience the pleasure of sharp cultural variegation as you move from place to place… It’s there […] in the freshly incomprehensible road signs, which is Slovenia are clotted with consonant clusters, as if vowels were an indulgence.”
This description of a consonant-rich Eastern European language is the best I’ve come across since a Car Talk episode called Vowels to Bosnia – http://www.cartalk.com/content/vowels-bosnia
So what’s the connection between not improving your health and improving your writing? Well, if nothing else, not improving your heath will give you less time to improve your epitaph* when that inevitable day comes.
[*Dr. Language Guy wishes to point out that he word “epitaph” comes from the Latin epitaphium, which, in turn, comes from the Greek epitaphion, meaning “over or at a tomb.” This is derived as epi (“on” or “over”) + taph(os) (“tomb”).]
Here are some better examples.
In a London cemetery:
Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann
Dec. 8, 1767
In a Ribblesford, England cemetery:
The children of Israel wanted bread;
And the Lord sent them manna.
Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil sent him Anna.
In Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona:
Here lays Butch,
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger,
But slow on the draw.
Also in Boot Hill:
Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a 44
Of a hanged sheep thief, in Lame, Ireland:
Here lies the body
Of Thomas Kemp
Who lived by wool
But died by hemp.*
* A witticism from Cervantes’ Don Quixote states: “One does not speak of hemp in the house of the hanged.”
A lawyer’s epitaph in England:
Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest lawyer,
And that is Strange.
In Newbury, England (1742):
Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies,
Nobody laughs and nobody cries;
Where his soul’s gone, or how it fares,
Nobody knows, and nobody cares.
In a Welland, Ontario cemetery:
Here lies all that remains of old Aunt Charlotte,
Born a virgin, died a harlot.
For sixteen years she kept her virginity,
A marvelous thing for this vicinity.
And finally, in Hollywood Forever cemetery: