In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

The Magic of Words


Susie Dent gave a speech on communication and language. (Source: Adobe/Twitter)

Dreams can come true. As a digital analyst, I attended an Adobe Summit speech on communication by Countdown presenter and linguist Susie Dent: “the woman in dictionary corner”.

Susie Dent began with a clip of former United States President Bill Clinton [1]:

Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what’s the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42.

Susie Dent praised President Clinton’s ability to take over 50 years of history — political and economic — and summarise it in less than 50 words. It was elucidation through simplification.

Shakespearean insults

According to Ms Dent, modern people have an average 50,000 words at their disposal, compared to Shakespeare’s arsenal of 20,000 words. Still, Shakespeare could conjure up some fantastic insults.


Susie suggested using this on Twitter trolls.

The purpose of language should be to enlighten, not obscure. Rather than recede into using very long words, which may not be understood by the people we are talking to, we should be seeking the precise words that convey exactly what we mean.

(Video: BBC Comedy Greats)

Learning new words can open up new lines of inquiry. There was never a halcyon age of English, somehow unaffected by current trends at the time.


We should aim to learn new words every day, so we can become more precise in our language.

Ms Dent also reminds us that the meaning of some words has completely changed over time. After calling herself a “geek” — and the geeks shall inherit the Earth — the Countdown presenter explained that it originally meant fools who would participate in Victorian freak shows, performing acts such as biting the heads off chickens.

For instance, texting has not led to the degradation of the language, but established some interesting and funny substitutions and variations, thanks to auto-correct algorithms on mobile phones. An example would be “fancy a riot?” becoming a new term for “fancy a pint?”.

Jargon and identity

Jargon — the bane of all who have to sit through a meeting on “solutionising” — actually serves a purpose. Like dialects and local slang, jargon benefits the group through communicating a shared and unified sense of identity.


Jargon may be both hated and commonly used.

The speech ended with a call for us to love our dictionaries, love the language, speak positively, and cut out the filler.

It was thoroughly wonderful to meet Susie Dent. With cinemas filling up with comic book films, it has never been cooler to be a geek: just don’t ask me to bite the head off a chicken.


Susie Dent got quite the applause.


[1] Jacobson, L., 2012. Bill Clinton says Democratic presidents top Republican presidents in job creation. Politifact. Available from: [Accessed: 15th May 2016]



This entry was posted on May 29, 2016 by in Other Interests and tagged , .
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