Last week the English language surpassed 1 million words. While we want to blame the internet, the 1 millionth word was “web 2.0″…which is pretty old term in internet-speak.
I suspect the 2 millionth word will come much quicker. In a column in the Tulsa World on June 21st, Michael Overall writes that we now have multiple words or variations of words to describe one specific meaning. For instance, high English “novice” gets shorted to contemporary English’s “newbie” gets shortened to text-friendly “n00b”. There. Now we have three words to describe one subject, and three different groups (perhaps even generations) which will use them.
Overall’s point is that the typical high school dropout recognizes 30,000 words, Rhodes scholars recognize 50,000 words, and the rest of us fall in-between. But with the growing number of words, when will we get to the point where we are no longer able to communicate with each other because we use completely different vocabularies?
Likewise, the number of Christian denominations grows by an estimated 260 per year, and there are an estimated 40,000 denominations today. While some lament the body of Christ being sliced up in this way, competing in inter-necine ways for believers, perhaps just as language is diffusing our experience of God is also necessarily diffusing so different groups can experience God in their language and systems of meaning.
But are we growing in understanding of God or dispersing our experience into a million different slices, not all recognizable to the other? At what point might denominations become completely anathema to each other as their language and systems are unrecognizeable to one another? Or has it already happened?
No real answer, just a musing. But there’s an important point to be made that Overall missed in his article. He said that Shakespeare used 31,534 words in his plays and laments, and laments that people do not read them anymore and get the breadth of human language. But it is more important than just simple breadth: Shakespeare coined his own terms, created his own words, and we are using them today.
Today perhaps we are Shakespeare 2.0, and we are creating new experiences of God and calling God by new or renewed words that will benefit all of humankind. Perhaps in an uncoordinated way we are assembling a new work and body of Christ, fragmented as it may be, that is beautiful and evocative in its expression and embodiment. We will use old words and new words, but perhaps together we are creating a body of work and dreams that will inspire people down the road.
NOTE: ORLY is internet-speak for “Oh really?” You are welcome.