Every week I’ll highlight a word that catches my attention. As a marketing and communications professional, I stress simple, straightforward language in my work, however I’m always watching for the evolving lexicon of the market. For growing vocabulary, I recommend these sites: FreeRice.com, UrbanDictionary.com, InvestorWords.com, BusinessDictionary.com, Merriam-Webster Online]
The word for this week is — Gravitas. This is a great word made popular recently because it was it was uttered by Amy Poehler on the season finale of Saturday Night Live during the Weekend Update segment when Poehler and Seth Meyers were lambasting Arizona State University for declining to grant President Obama an honorary degree in conjunction with his commencement address there: “…honorary degrees carry all the gravitas of a ‘#1 Dad’ coffee mug.”
Listed in Wikipedia as one of several virtues that Roman men were expected to possess, gravitas means “sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility and earnestness.” Or in Houston its a restaurant known for its American Bistro Style cuisine. Or a real estate marketing firm in South Florida focused on urban residential developments. Or a professional competition video gaming team in California.
The authentic use of the English language, especially words still close to their etymological roots, is increasingly being lost as schools dumb down their curricula to accommodate the Twitter/text messaging attention spans of students at all levels. Even the unrelated use of the word to label businesses and affinity groups undermines the lifetime value of the word. I’m sure similar statements have been uttered by writers in every generation for hundreds of years.
Two of the most valuable classess I ever took in high school were Latin I and II from Mr. Kimball. He also taught German. Actually, it’s a miracle I got that option considering my grades 9-12 took place at Morton High School in a small farm town of 12,000 outside Peoria, IL. I took the classes because I wanted to improve my fundamental knowledge of English in order to be a better writer and speller.
Considering what passes for communication and language these days, if it takes a late-night comedy skit to send new generationals to their online dictionaries, I’m good with that.