Quotations about   vocabulary

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A man’s tongue is a glib and twisty thing …
plenty of words there are, all kinds at its command —
with all the room in the world for talk to range and stray.
And the sort you use is just the sort you’ll hear.

[Στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ᾽ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ᾽ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ᾽ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ᾽ ἐπακούσαις.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 20, l. 248ff [Aeneas] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), l. 287ff]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

A man’s tongue is voluble, and pours
Words out of all sorts ev’ry way. Such as you speak you hear.
[tr. Chapman (1611), ll. 228-29]

Armed or with truth or falsehood, right or wrong,
So voluble a weapon is the tongue;
Wounded, we wound; and neither side can fail,
For every man has equal strength to rail.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

The tongue of man is voluble, hath words
For every theme, nor wants wide field and long,
And as he speaks so shall he hear again.
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 309-11]

The language of mortals is voluble, and the discourses in it numerous and varied: and vast is the distribution of words here and there. Whatsoever word thou mayest speak, such also wilt thou hear.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

For glibly runs the tongue, and can at will
Give utt’rance to discourse in ev’ry vein;
Wide is the range of language; and such words
As one may speak, another may return.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Glib is the tongue of man, and many words are therein of every kind, and wide is the range of his speech hither and thither. Whatsoever word thou speak, such wilt thou hear in answer.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

The tongue can run all whithers and talk all wise; it can go here and there, and as a man says, so shall he be gainsaid.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Glib is the tongue of mortals, and words there be therein many and manifold, and of speech the range is wide on this side and on that. Whatsoever word thou speakest, such shalt thou also hear.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

The tongue of man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there
of every kind, the range of words is wide, and their variance.
The sort of thing you say is the thing that will be said to you.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

Men have twisty tongues, and on them speech of all kinds; wide is the grazing land of words, both east and west. The manner of speech you use, the same you are apt to hear.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

Pliant and glib is the tongue men have, and the speeches in it are many and various -- far do the words range hither and thither; such as the word you speak is the word which you will be hearing.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]

Added on 17-Feb-21 | Last updated 17-Feb-21
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A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.

It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Politics and the English Language,” Horizon (Apr 1946)
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Added on 25-Apr-17 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.

A. A. Milne (1882-1956) English poet and playwright [Alan Alexander Milne]
Winnie-the-Pooh, ch. 4 (1926)
Added on 17-Feb-16 | Last updated 17-Feb-16
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The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.

James Nicoll (b. 1961) Canadian reviewer, editor
“The King’s English,” rec.arts.sf-lovers (15 May 1990)
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Nicoll later corrected the final verb to "rifle."
Added on 13-Jan-16 | Last updated 13-Jan-16
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Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g., “horse”, “ran”, “said”.

Roddy Doyle (b. 1958) Irish novelist, dramatist, screenwriter
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 29-May-14 | Last updated 29-May-14
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“Work, the what’s-its-name of the thingummy and the thing-um-a-bob of the what-d’you-call-it.”

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) Anglo-American humorist, playwright and lyricist [Pelham Grenville Wodehouse]
Psmith, Journalist (1915)
Added on 11-May-09 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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