Vocabulary 101

I was talking to a friend about how lately it seems that our society is playing fast and loose with words and their meanings.

Speaking of loose–maybe you’ve noticed, there are far too many people out there who confuse lose with loose. Too entirely different concepts.

Then we have people demanding the dumbing down of vocabulary. Witness the relatively recent call to re-label cochineal and carmine for what they really are.

Which is fine except that I’d like to point out that cochineal as a word has been around since the 1500s and carmine goes back at least to the 1700s. Both of these can be found in most print dictionaries and most online dictionaries as well. I’m all for clear labeling on packaging, but I think this guy is off the mark.

“Why not use a word that people can understand?” said center executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Sending people scurrying to the dictionary or to Google to figure out what ‘carmine’ or ‘cochineal’ means is just plain sneaky. Call these colorings what they are: insect-based”

It’s not like you’re calling these things H5N1 and expecting that people have a graduate degree to decipher them. I’m not the smartest person in the world and neither of these words turned up in my MLS program, but I was aware of their respective meanings well before these articles came out.

And you know what, if it’s that important to you to know what’s in your food, look it up. Call your public library and they’ll do it for you. Why is it so wrong that you should have to occasionally seek out or possess knowledge? There are plenty of decent dictionaries out there for less than $20 and if you don’t have one, you should get one.


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