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Anthropologists tell us the spoken language of our earliest caveman ancestors probably amounted to very few actual words like we have today, with most conversations being more like lots of grunting, groaning and pointing.
In other words, it wasn’t really much different than what we have now.
You would have thought over a period of several hundred thousands of years we would have improved and/or sharpened our communication skills somewhat. I don’t believe that’s the case.
Due to a combination of factors including laziness, stupidity, ignorance and propensity to depend on slang or colloquial terms, the almost total dependency of talking to one another via texting as opposed to using our vocal cords and the confusing nature of words and language itself, we’re just as bad off now, if not worse.
As an example, let’s take the word faucet, defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “a device with a hand-operated valve for regulating the flow of a liquid through a pipe.”
Among the synonyms also listed for faucet is “spigot.” That seems simple enough as most of us are probably familiar with this term, but hold on for just a minute.
If you look up “spigot” in Webster’s, one of the definitions given is “faucet.” How about that?
Since faucet is defined as being a spigot and a spigot is defined a being a faucet, that puts us basically right back where we started.
It’s also important to know the proper pronunciation of faucet, which is “fawcett” as in Farrah Fawcett, the poster model/actress of the 1970s and one of TV’s “Charlie’s Angels.”
See, this communication thing can get confusing, especially when you consider almost no one, regardless of income, education, race, creed, national origin, political persuasion or whether they just moved into the area from up north, pronounces spigot as it’s spelled.
The proper way to say it, as we all know, is “spickett.”
So, what we have now are several words and pronunciations — faucet, fawcett, spigot and spickett — involved in the mix, all referring to the exact same thing.
Furthermore, you can even spice things up a little by adding the word water to it and call the item a water fawcett or a water spickett, the way most people actually describe this device.
This is but one of many examples of confusion found in communication within our language, but by no means the only one.
If you look in the dictionary under the definitions for pants, trousers, overalls, slacks, drawers, dungarees, joggers, britches or jeans, you’ll find that except for a few minor variations, they all mean basically the same thing.
How in the world can we be expected to clearly communicate with such ambiguities —sorry, maybe that’s too big of a word to use, confusion might sound better — like this?
Let’s now look at the word “summers.”
I’ll bet you thought we were talking about the plural form of the hottest season of the year, didn’t you?
Nope, in this case it’s the short slang form of the word “somewheres,” which is the plural form of the word somewhere.
For example, “My dog is running around loose summers out there in the field, but I couldn’t find him.”
Without making this more irritating and confusing that it already is, we’ll finish up with some examples of homonyms that are defined in the Google dictionary as “each of two or more words having the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings and origins.”
Examples are; boar, bore; board, bored; brake, break; buy, by, bye; ceiling, sealing; cell, sell; cent, scent; cite, sight, site; coarse, course; cord, chord; dear, deer; die, dye; ewe, you; eye, I; fair, fare; feat, feet; find, fined; flea, flee; flew, flu; flower, flour; fore, four; forth, fourth; foul, fowl; fur, fir; gait, gate; grate, great; groan, grown; hair, hare; hall, haul; heal; heel; hear, here; heard, herd; him, hymn; hole, whole; hour, our; idle, idol; knew, new; knight, night; knot, not; know, no; loan, lone; made, maid; mail, male; meat, meet; missed, mist; and too, to, two.
That’s all the homonyms I can handle, although there are hundreds more.
Now, if we can just hang on a few more years and become even more dependent on texting than we are now, we might be able to get by without ever having to speak actual words again at all — except for an occasional grunt like our ancestors did.
Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.