From the cradle

If I said that all we are was water
who would we be then?
We can write numbers,
but can we write them on water?

Could we not be many, but one,
one people, as we go down there
to the water, there to be made
from words and not numbers?
And when we say that,
we say it all with this:
we did it in the past,
so why not now?
Words, not numbers…

OK, I agree, it may not be the greatest or most eloquent poem in the world, or even my best effort to date (opinions differ) but it does satisfy the two objectives that I set out to accomplish: 1) to write a poem that is meaningful to me and says something I want to say poetically, and 2) uses only words from the list of the 100 most commonly used words in the English language.

It wasn’t easy. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a lifetime of conversation using only this list or even the next hundred or the next; things get much easier once a few more basic nouns and verbs are added, but still, you would never be considered eloquent. To be restricted to using only the 100, 200 or 300 most common words for communication would be to ensure that the grunt and the finger jab would both become even more popular than they are now, even for your typical teen.

I was actually very curious about this list, as I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of these words are of Anglo-Saxon—hence Germanic and hence Proto Indo European (PIE)—descent. We have a curious dichotomy in English: while the vast majority of the words we use are of Greek or Latin (and other-Latin, meaning via the Romance languages of French, Spanish and Italian) origin, or from the far flung British Empire, or just made up…the core words we tend to use the most often are the ones we first learn as children and are nearest and dearest to our basic thoughts and actions, and hence the words we use most often.

Thank you for reading From the cradle. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge,

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