Words, Words, Words

I knew there was a reason. I knew it, I knew it. Right – the next time someone tells me I’m an elitist and pompous and pretentious and a show-off and generally horrible and intolerable, merely because I accidentally use a word that one might not find in a five-year-old’s vocabulary – the very next time, I say, I will have an answer ready. It’s because I don’t yet have Alzheimer’s. Surely that’s a good enough reason! Surely even the most dedicated warrior for populism will recognize that not (yet) having Alzheimer’s is quite a sensible reason to use words one was foolish and malevolent enough to pick up by accident at some point. Surely. I didn’t mean to do it, I didn’t mean to pick up pretentious words, but now that I’ve done it, well – it’s nice to know that the Alzheimer’s scenario is postponed for awhile.

Scientists have discovered the very first signs of Iris Murdoch’s final illness within the text of her last novel. Her vocabulary showed signs of damage at least a year before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, they say…Murdoch’s husband, John Bayley, remarked: “There was something different about Iris’s last novel. It was moving but strange in many ways.” Now his suspicion that the degenerative disease had damaged her literary skills long before it became obvious has been backed by a statistical analysis. This reveals that while the structure and grammar of Murdoch’s writing remained consistent, her vocabulary dwindled and her language simplified.

There you are, you see. Her vocabulary dwindled. And joking aside, it’s actually quite interesting. Her vocabulary got richer as she got older, and then as she got older than that, it went in the other direction.

“The smallest number of word types occurred in Jackson’s Dilemma and the largest in The Sea, The Sea, and new word types were introduced at a strikingly higher rate in both earlier books compared with Jackson’s Dilemma,” he said. “Moreover, the vocabulary of Jackson’s Dilemma was the most commonplace and that of The Sea, The Sea the most unusual. “This suggests an enrichment in vocabulary between the early and middle stages of Murdoch’s writing career, followed by an impoverishment before the composition of her final work,” said Dr Garrard…”Her manuscripts thus offer a unique opportunity to explore the effects of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease on spontaneous writing, and raises the possibility of enhancing cognitive tests to diagnose the disease.”

It’s not only interesting, it’s also useful. So you see, having a very slightly (accidentally, humbly) enlarged vocabulary is not something to shout at people for, it’s something to say ‘well done, you’ll help medical research if you become ga-ga as you almost certainly soon will’ for.

Joking aside again, it really is interesting. That nun study fascinates me. Mental activity does ward off Alzheimer’s – it is somewhat protective against it. Learning is protective against it, apparently. Which is quite good. Gives people an incentive to do something that they might then find of value for additional reasons. Somebody ought to suggest to George Bush that he might try it.

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