A Very Good Reminder

Today’s klass is brought to you by Dead Poets Society via Kendall Jenner.

The other day, thanks to Kendall Jenner’s Instagram feed, I stumbled upon a quote from Dead Poets Society. The quote was a paraphrase of this:

‘So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.’

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While I disagree that language was invented to woo women, or men for that matter, I do believe that it is a treasure chest too seldom opened. Colourful words can decorate our speech, our writing and our lives. Yet so often we express ourselves in black and white.

Like many of my friends, I saw Dead Poets Society for the first time in Mrs Casanova’s year 10 English class. And much like Mr Keating, Mrs Cass always knew what was good for us, before we even did.

Dead Poets Society is one of those films that make you want to be better. Mr Keating’s lessons, swathed in that Robin Williams charisma, compel us to not only build the world, but to decorate it. As Keating says:

‘Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.’

A very good poignant reminder indeed.

So on the weekend, I was riding my bike when I caught myself using the ‘v’ word. ‘Very slow’, I thought, ‘I am very slow’. And then, because this is what’s important when riding a bike on a rocky mountain, I thought of Mr Keating. What is the word for ‘very slow’, I thought? Laboured, lagging, laggard. Ok, those I just found on ‘synonyms’. But in the moment, I had nothing.

When we paddle in the shallow end of our vocabulary, we forget how to swim. And that’s where I was. Don’t get me wrong, Plain English has its place. It’s the cornerstone of clear communication and as someone who spends my life reading contracts I am not advocating against it. But there’s room, in informal life, to throw some paint on those foundations.

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A wall of words

An eclectic vocabulary is a powerful tool. Deployed with creativity and grace, language can persuade and emote in equal measure.

Robert Menzies wasn’t very sad to declare Australia’s involvement in the war, it was his ‘melancholy duty’.

Nigella Lawson doesn’t really like to bake, she longs to trail ‘nutmeggy fumes of baking pie’ in her ‘languorous wake’.

And when in doubt, just think, what would the Dowager Countess do? Lady knows that not all words are felt the same: ‘Lie is such an unmusical world’.

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Dessert last night – Banoffee fumes in my languorous wake

So try this with me. When you catch a ‘very’ or a ‘really’ touching your lips, check your vocabulary. Let’s unlock our vocal vaults and season our sentences. Because…

Language was invented for one reason, friends – to enrich – and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do.

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