I am studying to take the GRE for grad-school applications. I opened the book and the first part is all about reading comprehension – words. Can you imagine my reaction? Needless to say I thought studying (and the test) would be a breeze if it started with words. Then I got to the math section. I am STILL studying for the math section.
Math has never been my thing. Maybe that’s because it was never explained well to me, maybe it’s because I never thought there was room for both words and numbers in my brain.* I can see how logical numbers are, even though I don’t understand WHY they are logical. (If someone can explain that to me, with WORDS, they would probably be my hero.)
But here is the big question: How is it that we have a system of numbers that works so efficiently and so consistently when our words keep changing? My gut reaction is “because words allow for more creativity” but I know that math and numbers can create beautiful architecture and keep our cities organized. At the same time, I know that the math is the math. It doesn’t evolve, it doesn’t change. Sure, the mathematicians of the world can come up with new and scary TYPES of math, but 5×5 is always going to be 25. Words aren’t like that.
Words change all the time. We come up with new words all the time – just think of all those words that Shakespeare coined, or the words that are added to the dictionary every year (remember when unfriended was added?) Icelandic is an excellent example of adding new words – they don’t borrow terms like so many other languages. (Admittedly, this has not always been the case. The government there started regulating the language and what is added when they gained sovereignty in 1918.) An example, “telephone” is called (approximately) “long thread.” It was an old word that was brought back with new meaning.
People are infinitely creative when it comes to language. We change old words, we make new words. Numbers are always going to be the same. So maybe it’s true that words leave room for more creativity than numbers do. After all, look at all the languages on earth, look at all the made up languages that are linguistically sound. Words are beautiful.
What are some of your favorite words?
Take care, fellow travelers.
*Just one note: After my college math class (the easiest one there was – Math in our World) I thought that maybe there is room for numbers and words – as long as the numbers are practical (things like basic arithmetic and even some geometry). Now studying for the GRE, I’ve got to throw out the “practical” bit and just make room. It’s hard work.