It's not really possible to count how many words there are in the English language, but it's a lot. And many people agree that English has more words than most other world languages. Anecdotally, I remember noticing the problem when I was learning French and I wanted to distinguish between jump, hop, and leap; French only has the one jumping verb. There's no distinction in Swedish between winking and blinking, though I'm sure flirters would disagree.
English has plenty of words to describe everything quite accurately, which is why I get so angry when people start conflating the definitions of words. I'm mad that what happened at Abu Ghraib gets labeled as "torture" when we have the word "humiliation" to differentiate the two concepts. The word torture loses its specific meaning when it covers the spectrum, just as jump shouldn't cover both leaps and hops.
I've been especially mad this week over the misuse of the word "gulag" by Amnesty International. "Gulag" is a very specific word used to describe a very specific type of penal system. It is entirely not appropriate for discussing Guantanamo Bay.
The Jawa Report has a well-researched post about what exactly a gulag is. We have plenty of words in the English language to accurately define the differences between the gulag and Gitmo; let's use them.Posted by Sarah at June 3, 2005 08:21 AM