Weatherford Democrat


September 19, 2011

What are words worth?

WEATHERFORD — In life’s literary waters, words are endangered, and half of the world’s languages are circling the drain. Caught up in digital overload, we are victims in the rush that favors speed over accuracy, as well as ever-shortening messages.

Some people — perhaps the same ones who think this would be a questionable time for the meek to inherit the earth — refuse to line up with the “need for speed” crowd. Shrinking in number, they contend that grammar indeed matters.

Alas, texting/emails/voice mails rule the day as the world hurries on.

Though a few are hanging in, half of the planet’s 7,000 languages will be extinct by the end of this century, experts say. On average, two are signing off each month, and many hundreds of languages are spoken by fewer than 50 people each.

One teetering language is spoken by only two men — both in their 80s — in Ayapana, Mexico.

They are said to be “men of few words, indifferent to each other’s company.” Maybe the Ayapanic language is already deceased, lacking only a death certificate.

Words quake at the prospect of dismissal. More in vogue are symbols and abbreviations spewing through space in fragments.

Purists also moan about the dependence on “spell check,” believing that it often makes bad matters worse.

The “app” (yep, that’s a new word) gets “As” on spelling, but “pleads the fifth” on assurance of proper word usage.

A newspaper obituary a while back said the deceased was a longtime “soil conversationalist.”

It is more likely that the writer’s intended reference was to his professional title: “soil conservationist.”

Spell check, obviously, does only that. When wrong words traipse by, spell check police wave ‘em right on through.

Those with eyes to see still may ponder books — the printed kind and others — that have no literary shortcuts. Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything, was a national best-seller.

It’s a fascinating account hundreds of scholars who worked more than 70 years before birthing the Oxford English Dictionary.

There were deliberations aplenty — sometimes marked by feuds — over pronunciation, accent marks, meanings, etc., in “the grandfather of all word-books.” Indeed, wheels turned slowly back when words seem to matter a great deal more.

More recently, James W. Pennebaker’s The Secret Life of Pronouns details fascinating claims that frequency and patterns of word use provide windows into people’s personalities and social connections. A powerful computer program extracted the data.

One example concerns the use of pronouns, specifically “I” words. Examination of the work of 18 poets — half of whom committed suicide — revealed that suicidal writers used far more “I”-related pronouns than the other half that chose to live on.

He also contended that “I” words used sparingly may indicate plans of political leaders to carry out threats. He cited this pattern in the words of Harry Truman before atomic bombs were unleashed, and in Adolf Hitler’s speeches before the invasion of Poland.

Words still come in handy for Garrison Keillor, an absolute artist with words.

He’s just completed a coast-to-coast “Summer Love” tour, with most of the 25 shows sell-outs rewarded by standing ovations. Part of his magic stems from spinning local medleys spun for each city.

We caught his three-hour show in Fort Worth, where his best line described some of today’s youth adorned by metal above the shoulders. “They look like they fell face first into a tackle box,” he said.

Garrison and his entourage covered thousands of miles in a handsome tour bus. Maybe Keillor, now 69, got “travel tips” from a colorful sports personality, John Madden. When coach Madden switched to telecasts, he bade good-bye to flying, opting evermore to favor a well-equipped bus for cross-country travel. (Madden hopes to never hold another plane boarding pass in his hand.)

Madden, too, got a lot out of words, even if simply “boom, zap or zoom.” For him, a golf term claimed for his errant tee-shots also “fits” his approach to life. He calls it “FIDO.” “Forget it, drive on,” he suggests for happiness on the golf course — and in daily life.

It’s tough to argue with this philosophy. Still, we wish for some middle ground between “sticks and stones and the words that will never hurt us.” The thought of the demise of words and languages hurts. Both may some day be buried in adjoining graves.

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site:

Text Only
  • The triumph of tarp

    One of our favorite political stories took place during Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964. A friend was standing outside a Goldwater rally when a woman burst from the room, tears streaming down her face.

    March 4, 2014

  • Yes, we want it; no, we don’t?

    Maybe our media will finally start filtering the noise. 

    March 4, 2014

  • The good news you likely haven't heard

    Do you like surprises? I have two surprises for you: At least 19 states already in 2014, nearly half, are posting budget surpluses. Yes, surpluses. The other surprise: Since Obama took office, the national deficit has been reduced by one-half. 

    February 11, 2014

  • The hand over the lens

    The top Super Bowl highlight was not Peyton Manning struggling or Renee Fleming singing or even that adorable puppy nuzzling a horse in the Budweiser commercial. It was Bill O’Reilly grilling Barack Obama.

    February 11, 2014

  • U.S. mayors forced to innovate

    I recently came across more proof that lawmakers blocking progress are weakening the institution of Congress: 

    Mayors from across the nation met in Washington, D.C., for three days last week to discuss a host of issues and possible solutions against a backdrop of congressional inaction. This came as President Obama stated his plans to use “a pen and a phone” to “make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need.” And further, voters are recognizing that the problem in Congress starts at the state level -- and many hope their legislatures will do something about it. 

    January 28, 2014

  • The Village Idiot — Class, but not least

    For Steve’s birthday, it was decided that no one could give him a gift that cost over a dollar. Not that we don’t like Steve, or that he isn’t worth more than a dollar, or that we’re extremely cheap (well, it could be that). It’s just that as grown-ups, who needs more stuff?

    November 29, 2013

  • Black Friday on Thanksgiving?

    Thanksgiving is a time set apart to thank God for all His blessings. It now appears that stores are trying to get a jump on Christmas shopping by beginning “Black Friday” on Thanksgiving Day! Our culture continues to push a secular agenda on all of us. Now the press of shopping is crowding out a time of personal reflection on the goodness of God.

    November 28, 2013

  • BYRON YORK: Obama, Dems kept mum about health plan

    The journalist Jonathan Cohn, an ardent supporter of Obamacare, recently wrote in The New Republic that problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act should be “an opportunity to have a serious conversation about the law’s trade-offs — the one that should have happened a while ago.”

    November 26, 2013

  • DONNA BRAZILE: A gift of practical idealism

    I was only 3 when President John F. Kennedy died, but I’ll never forget what happened that day as my grandmother and others cried. You see, we were Catholics living down in the then-segregated Deep South. Kennedy was our hope for a better tomorrow.

    November 26, 2013

  • The way we were

    I can hear in my mind’s ear Barbra Streisand’s beautifully haunting song “The Way We Were.” It was a nostalgic, wistful song in a movie of the same name. But sometimes, like now, it reminds me of how far we’ve come.

    November 19, 2013

Must Read
Top News
House Ads
AP Video
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dead at 87 Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Raw: Pope Francis Performs Pre-easter Ritual Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing