Holding back a giggle, I watched as a group of second graders used their best alphabetical skills to find the swear word in the dictionary. Some seemed to be jaded by seeing the word in print. The rest seemed to be amazed. I couldn't help but comment....
"Well, it is an actual word," I pointed out.
This seemed to confuse them even more and made me wonder at what point we learn to differentiate between our vocabulary and the inventory of all words. Someone recently pointed out to me that I am super aware of the nuances of words and so, when people say thing,s I scrutinize the words they choose to decipher the deeper meaning of what they are saying. But, not everyone chooses words carefully (other than avoiding certain words like swear words).
Still, I think perhaps I have been given too much credit there. When I was revising one of my manuscripts recently I came across the word 'just' 432 times. Huh! Who knew I just liked that word so much. 'Like' would be another over-used word requiring supreme effort to cut from my speech. And... it actually took my pointing out how much my daughter was using the word to realize that she was picking it up directly from me. Now we have a game where we follow-up whenever one of us uses the word 'like'... We say, "do you, like, want to see that movie or actually want to see that movie?" for example.
I remember hearing about a book that discussed all of the reasons people use the word 'like'. It caught my attention because even then I think I recognized that word choice happens with or without our concious effort. For example, 'like' is popular with kids because it allows them to give an opinion without attaching themselves too firmly to it. This can be important in a world where one wrong word can get you ostrasized forever.
On the other hand, the larger our vocabulary, the more choices we have to say what we really mean. Because, like, sometimes it isn't enough to say 'sex' or 'making love'. Sometimes there is actually only one word that will do.