When I was in high school, my French teacher talked about how the French were, at the time, militantly against the influx of English words into their language. One Frenchman she used as an example had written a long rant, in French, which she made us translate, against the French use of the word okay. There were many French words he felt that were better. They didn’t need an inferior English substitute imported into their language.
The whole thing sticks in my mind because as a teenager, I thought the guy was just ridiculous. Language changes and should, as times change. And yet….
As writers, words are important to us. We search for the precise word that will tell our readers exactly what we mean. We feel a peculiar sense of satisfaction when we find it.
Words don’t seem to mean the same things anymore. Take, for instance, the word friend. How many Facebook friends do you have? Are they really friends or just…you know Facebook faces?
I’m struggling with the whole word thing now as I look for work. I’ve been working for a construction company who was putting light rail up here in the Denver metro area. The job is coming to an end because our part of the light rail is completed. I worked in the accounting department and have been pretty happy with the whole thing, as I have waited a long time for light rail to come to my area. This was a job I really felt needed doing. And the people I have worked with were cool, and the job had some fairly interesting aspects. All in all, I am sad to see it go.
But as I look for work again, I realize that the word accountant has changed. I am an old school bookkeeper, used to doing anything and everything from paying the bills to journal entries. But the word bookkeeper is now dated. Everyone out there is an accountant now. They are staff accountants or junior accountants or senior accountants. The word has lost some of its meaning and now needs modifiers, whole boat loads of modifiers to make it mean…well, anything.
As a writer I find this distressing. As a job seeker, I find it confusing. As a person, it makes me feel less sure of myself. What am I applying for anyway?
And I’m thinking that old French guy had a point.