We’ve heard it said that the vocabulary of the average high school grad now is about half that of an average high school grad from 70 years ago. I have no idea whether this is actually true, but if so it probably speaks poorly of our education system. It can of course be argued that graduation rates are much higher nowadays and if one included the vocabulary of all the 18 year olds that dropped out in 7th grade back then (that would presumably be advanced through to graduation these days) we’d wind up with a more favorable relative measure. However, a general diminishing trend in vocabulary can seen in a number of areas when we compare public discourse now with that from the early 20th century (e.g. compare Wilson’s State of the Union address with W’s).
I once had a prof who after (and sometimes during!) student presentations would make remarks like ‘ooh a $50 word’ or ‘that presentation had a lot $5 and $10 dollar words in it but never rose above a $20’. I’m dedicating this thread in his memory.
There are times and occasions for each language ‘denomination’ to get used but generally we want to speak or write at the level of one’s audience, too big or too small a bill results in being seen as either a pompous windbag or a simpleton.
Our impressions of what words qualify as belonging to various ‘denominations’ may differ a bit individually but here are some examples that I think are representative:
$1 – and, the, red, house, fish
$5 – order, situation, purpose, straighten
$10 – resolved, preoccupied, exploration, cooperative
$20 – existential, concurrent, contextual, sporadic
$50 – ecumenical, acerbic, superfluous, accretion
$100 – recondite, exigible, asseverational, delurtate
Around Cyburbia I might use a $50 word on occasion - everyone here is either a college student or graduate, but I don’t think I’d ever venture beyond a $20 word writing a staff report and seldom venture beyond $10 words while speaking at public hearings. Maybe if one is in academia they might find occasion to use $100 word but I confess these opportunities are few and far between (which begs the observation …so freakin’ what if I don’t know what “anent” means)
How about you – do you generally agree with those ‘denominations’ and when do you find occasion in life to use the various bills?