Resolved: English Has Too Few Words

Yesterday I discussed how redundancies in common expressions, like pots & pans and law & order, imply that English has too many words.

Yet the opposite case can also be made.  In the words of Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way —

“And yet there are odd gaps. We have no word for coolness corresponding to warmth. There is no word for the indentation on your upper lip.  We are strangely lacking in the middling terms — words to describe with some precision the middle ground between hard and soft, near and far, big and little… We had a word to describe all the work you find waiting for you when you return from vacation, backlog, but none to describe all the work you have to do before you go. Why not forelog?  And we have a large number of negative words — inept, disheveled, incorrigible, ruthless, unkempt — for which the positive form is missing.  English would be richer if we could say admiringly of a tidy person, “She’s so sheveled”…  (page 68)

So does anyone agree?  Do we English speakers have a lot of work to do?  Isn’t it amazing what happens when hundreds of millions of people come together through language over a couple of millennia?

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