Thursday, January 15, 2015

Word resurrection

Today I read an article about some academics trying to highlight “some of the English language's most expressive — yet regrettably neglected — words” so that they might be used more often. As is so often the case, more than a few people don’t quite get it.

The list of Wayne State University’s “Word Warriors' 2015 top 10” includes a few obscure words (such as, concinnity, opsimath, and others), along with a few that are in general use, like caterwaul, melange, and knavery. And that’s where the misunderstanding arose.

The Wayne State list is of words that “deserve to be used more often in conversation and prose,” not just ones that are “dead”. In the article, British author Mark Forsyth, a fan of reviving useful “dead” English words, pointed out, as I did, that some of the words are still in use, and then asked, “Are they really forgotten?”

Obviously not. Maybe he didn’t get a chance to read what the Wayne State academics actually said about the list, so he was instead reacting out of, let’s say, incomplete information, because at no point did the academics claim the words were “lost”.

Pop culture can revive words that are seldom used. For example, I’ve heard Monty Burns on The Simpsons use old words like flapdoodle (one of my personal favourites, by the way) and rapscallion, both of which are on the list. Repeated enough, such words can take off all over again.

But Forsyth is right about one thing: The “lost” words most worthy of revival are ones that have no modern equivalent. English is an incredibly expressive language, thanks to its mergers and acquisitions over the millennia. But having a few more precise words—neologisms or “lost” words—enter common use has got to be a good thing.

But who’s championing the case of the words we should lose?

The photo at top of this post is my own.

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