Saving Words


Romans 5:6: While we were yet sinners we were being saved by Christ Jesus.

I don’t know if you think about the English language a lot. I think most people don’t—they’re like fish in water—they’re so immersed in it they don’t notice it’s there, like the character in a Moliere play who was surprised to learn that he spoke prose. And the play is in verse. Clever fellow, that Moliere. Anyhow, I’d say that most people are not aware of language except for linguists, English majors and good looking intelligent people like those in choirs.

I was thinking about some of the unique features of English, and there are several outrageous system of spelling, but the outstanding characteristic (I almost said “most unique characteristic,” but there’s no such thing) of English is its huge vocabulary. We have about a million words at our disposal although most people (even English fanatics) use about 25,000 of them. English acquired such a large vocabulary because no one cared about it. That’s true—in the fourteenth century after what was then the Anglo-Saxon language received a tremendous boost from the Normans who took over England because we incorporated all kinds of French terms. Scholars of that day thought English should be used to buy fish or scold children. They regarded Latin as the epitome of expression, and some believed that, in the Garden of Eden, God spoke Latin, Adam spoke Greek, and Eve spoke English (sorry, ladies). Since English was held in such low regard up until about the late eighteenth century, no one cared what words it gathered or how they were used. So English added vocabulary and kept changing until it became the flexible world-wide language it is today. As a result we have a lot of words, as I mentioned. By comparison to the million words in English, Chinese has 370,000; French, 100,000; Japanese, 500,000; Russian, 200,000; and Spanish, 100,000.

In the interest of full disclosure, about 171,476 (exact count, right) words in English are used currently, while 47,156 are obsolete, while there are 615,000 definitions. In English, as in other languages, a word pronounced the same may have a different meaning. Take bark as in the sound a dog makes and the word for the covering of a tree for example. Similarly, a river bank, a savings bank, a bank of switches, and a bank shot in pool share a common spelling and pronunciation, but differ in meaning.

I was thinking about this when I was saving the manuscript to one of my novels. I’m extremely paranoid about losing it, and I think rightfully so, so I save it to the desktop, to the Cloud and to a flash drive. I figure all three will not go bad at once, although I know there’s always a chance that could happen. I have done what I could to guarantee my manuscript will still be there when I return to it.

In the bad old days before computers, people (including me) made multiple copies of important documents. Not many people had copying machines at home, and if you didn’t you used carbon paper, which some of you might remember. It wasn’t as messy as toner, but it was a pain to use.

While I was writing my big paper for my master’s, I kept one copy at home, one at my parents’ house, and one at Becky’s house (we were engaged at the time). And what do you know—they all survived. Of course, any of us could have had a fire, flood, earthquake or epidemic and lose the paper. But we didn’t.

“Save” is one of those words we apply to a number of situations. We save our money in a bank. We save a seat. We may save someone or something from harm. Doctors may save someone from dying. A pitcher might earn have a save in a ball game. Then, we talk about Jesus saving all of us if we turn to him, and this is the most important kind of salvation of all. Thanks be to God for God’s saving grace and for his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


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