“It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of animal’, and a verb meaning ‘to follow persistently’)? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written as hot-dog or even hotdog?
It’s also difficult to decide what counts as ‘English’. What about medical and scientific terms? Latin words used in law, French words used in cooking, German words used in academic writing, Japanese words used in martial arts? Do you count Scots dialect? Teenage slang? Abbreviations?
The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don’t take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).
This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”- Oxford Dictionaries
Three quarters of a million! And, in that total are two little words that are uttered countless times in passing. “I’m sorry” rolls off the tongue when we accidentally bump into someone. ”I’m sorry” is instilled in preschoolers across America on a daily basis as they learn to socially interact with others in preparation for social interaction on a grander scale.
For some women, “I’m sorry” is habitually the opening to a sentence, as though they are excusing their rightful demands before the request is even complete. Why are you sorry? For speaking your mind? For being you? For being heard?
These two short words when voiced together hold the weight of three quarters of a million if placed on a scale. Yet, they are losing their value as we use them without substance or consideration to their meaning in the particular instance in which we present them.
“I’m sorry you feel that way” reduces the intensity of an argument. However, are we really sorry the person expressing something which obviously offended us enough to spark an argument “feels that way?”
“I’m sorry I can’t work late today” presents us in a better light when responding to the boss’s request for overtime. Yet are we really sorry we can’t burn the midnight oil in place of spending more time with our loved ones?
“I’m sorry if this blog post offends anyone” is often typed at the beginning of posts all across the bloggerhood. And, truth be told if we are writing it, posting it, sharing it…we aren’t truly sorry are we?
Two words. I’m sorry.
Their presence often goes unnoticed as they are squeezed between more words until they are distorted into something different in their meaning. They tumble out in an avalanche of words that rush them past their significance, sending them flying down a slope of meaningless jargon. I’m sorry…originally meant to convey an apology has warped from a heartfelt emotion into an empty message. These two words are flung about repeatedly as a way of appeasing the recipient, softening them, plying them to bend to our will often in the hopes of easing our own conscience. The magnitude of those two little words being spoken to one whose been slighted holds more meaning than three quarters of a million other words. Looking in someone’s eyes and expressing your regret, your remorse, your apology…with your eyes, your words and ultimately your heart is an action that comforts both the recipient and the giver.
And yet, the presence of their absence is felt to our very core when it is all we seek to move forward, when we are at a standstill unable to take another step as pain and hurt hold us firmly rooted. The presence of its absence holds us hostage.