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Making Meaning: Listening in the age of a million words

Did you know there’s a word for that witty retort you wish you made at the time, but thought of after the moment had passed? There is. It’s “tintiddle” Great word, but I don’t know anyone who uses it.

On Wednesday, June 10th, the Global Language Monitor announced that the English language had reached its one-millionth word. Congratulations English, you’re complicated, hard to learn, and rife with potential misunderstanding.

I’ll admit it: the millionth word is stressing me out. We’re a company of professional listeners. It’s crucial we understand both what someone says and how they say it.  Fortunately, the key to being a successful listener is not in the size of one’s vocabulary, but in the strength of one’s relationships.

Getting to know members in a community over time, you can identify subtle differences in the way they respond and engage. You know when a typically jovial and unselfconscious member takes the time to provide elegant and detailed feedback. (It’s a lot like when your mother uses your first and middle name to get your attention.) In communities, the message and the medium are tightly coupled. Do members use slang or is their language formal, impassioned, abbreviated, verbose?

Ultimately, finding the illuminating insight at the crossroads of what’s being said and how it’s being said is only possible in intimate relationships—the kind you build over time, the kind that distinguishes a group from a community.

P.S. Let’s be honest…a million words is a lot of pressure. I don’t know about you, but I feel compelled to up my game. Here are a few choice nuggets I hope to work into my vocabulary:

  1. pettifogger: a petty, unscrupulous lawyer
  2. raillery: good-humored banter or teasing repartee
  3. bouleversement: complete overthrow; a reversal
  4. perorate: to conclude or sum up a long discourse; also, to speak at length
  5. mephitic: offensive to the smell; also, noxious.

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