I was recently introduced to the beautiful, entrancing prose of Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game). Each volume consumed my attention over the course of several cool late July and early August evenings. As I turned the final page of The Angel’s Game to complete the second novel of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, I felt literally spent, exhausted from the immersion in the world of Ruiz Zafón’s characters and creation. Simultaneously I was struck by disappointment that I would have to wait perhaps years until his next novel is published in English (the orginials are written in Spanish). I cannot remember the written word ever effecting on me such a complete emotional response; it has me looking at words — and more specifically fiction — in a completely different manner.
Fast-foward to the past 48 hours. In this time, I have run across an article that spoke of persons learning English as a second language needing less than a 1,000 word vocabulary to understand the language. Last night, I was asked to “speak English” after using the word incredulous in a chat, and also this afternoon when one of my status updates was considered florid by a commenter.
My sensitivity may be raised by the impact of Ruiz Zafon’s novels, but it seems more than serendipitous that the meaning and usage of words have emerged so significantly in the past few weeks. By some estimates, there are more than 600,000 words in the English language, but the average person uses less than 10,000 of them. Why is this? Do we not illustrate our lives better with a greater diversity in our vocabulary? Often the use of more specific, less common terms leads to the criticism of excess implied in the word florid — the implication that the author is somehow “showing off” or, even worse, elitist.
But what is it that the literary masters do that leaves us spent as we turn the last page? They possess an envious command of the language, knowing that written words, both by themselves and surrounded by compatible partners, have the power to speak to us from the page, evoking our passions, fears and imagination.