Tag Archives: US politics

Pardon my faulty expressive vocabulary

I see that Barak Obama has selected Joe Bidden as his vice-president.

I’m a well-informed person. I know who Joe Bidden is. I’ve heard of him.

Well, actually, I realised that I haven’t.  Joe Biden? Bye-den? Is that the same bloke that I’ve been mispronouncing Joe Bid-den in my internal soundtrack while reading? Oops. I guess it’s another case of the old receptive-vocabulary-outstripping-the-expressive-vocabulary syndrome.

Deep in my literacy researcher past, I remember that it took five plus or minus two utterances of a word that you’d read, but not actually said out loud, until it moved from your receptive vocabulary to your expressive vocabulary.  How versatile that ‘five plus or minus two’ formula is!  But there’s always a bit of a risk when you’re using a word for the first time.  Are people going to snicker because you’ve mispronounced it? Is it really a word, or is it something you just dreamt up?  Is this the right context?

Because, yes, Reader, I have snickered at those who speak of eppy-tomes  (epitomes) and mack-a-bers (macabres). In fact, I think I may have used eppy-tome myself until I recognized the error of my ways. And it took me several attempts until “apotheosis” just tripped off the tongue when discussing the chapter so titled in Russell Ward’s The Australian Legend with first year history students.

I wonder if the gap between expressive and receptive vocabulary is wider or narrower among adults who read a lot compared with adults who do not?  I’ve just done a quick Google and can find lots of incomprehensible research about children, especially with communication and reading difficulties, but not adults.  I think, as a hunch, there would be more of a gap with good readers.  I always pull out the dictionary when I encounter a new word, although if I’m reading someone like John Banville, sometimes there are just too many unfamiliar terms and it becomes distracting.

I heard both Obama and Joe Bye-den speaking on the radio. It’s interesting how American politicians always have to have a story that encapsulates something about the American national narrative.  I don’t think we do to the same extent in Australia- although then again, Kevin has his dead father, Bob Hawke had the bottle,  Paul Keating had Bankstown, Mark Latham had his ladder of opportunity, Johnny Howard had his father and grandfather meeting on the battlefield.  But I can think of other examples of Australian politicians without a personal/national narrative and they didn’t seem to suffer for it.

So, good on you, Joe Bidden/Biden.  Already I’m forgetting that I ever thought your name could be pronounced any other way.