Tag Archives: obsolete words

Language, words, and relevance #amwriting

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, English is like water–it shifts, it flows, and it takes what it wants from every other language it comes across. That naughty  penchant for word-thievery is what makes English so much fun to play with.

This continual evolution is also what makes it so difficult to work with. The very roots of English encourage the continual changing soundscape, because it is a living language.

Think about it–a bunch of smart guys in Victorian England applied the rules of a dead language, Latin, to an evolving language with completely different roots, Frisian glued to Old French, added a bunch of made-up words and usages invented by William Shakespeare, and called it “Grammar.”

Consider these words that either signify lazy speech habits or a shift in the language:

  • Supposably… oh wait, did you mean supposedly?
  • Liberry… no sir you must go to the library for those books–the liberry is not a truthful fruit and may give you hives.
  • Feberry... I hope you mean it will happen in February because Feberry will never come.
  • Honestness... In all honesty, I am not sure what to make of that one.

My favorite new word is Prolly, which my granddaughters seem to think means Probably, but in all honestness, doesn’t.

It’s not a new problem.

Jonathan Swiftwriter and dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, complained to Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, in 1712: “Our Language is extremely imperfect. Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities.” He went so far as to say, “In many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar.”

I feel that may prolly be a little harsh.

But this all boils down to what our current language really sounds like, and what it may become in fifty years. If a true classic like The Hobbit is written in too old-fashioned a style for young people to read now, that doesn’t bode well for the longevity of the books we authors are so carefully crafting now.

But these shifts in sound and accent and the influx of new words into the language have a side effect I find disturbing. As frequently happens, this problem is caused by people with good intentions.

A great commentary was posted in the Guardian a while back, called The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape, written by Robert McFarlane and posted February 27, 2015. He states that many common words are being omitted from school dictionaries now in an effort to modernize them. (Acorn, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow.)

How will a modern reader understand a book like Watership Down if the meanings of those words  which describe common plants and animals are no longer relevant? And that beautiful, highly controversial book was only first published in 1972.

If I could say one thing to those who compile dictionaries, it is that all the many words that make up our English language have relevance and should be included in what is being marketed as a truly comprehensive dictionary.

At some point, a curious reader is going to want to know the meaning of a word. If that word appeared in the dictionary at one time, why must it be removed just because a committee of scholars with narrow life experiences don’t use it in conversation? This is especially important in a school dictionary.

At least the publishers of most dictionaries seem to be aware of this modern fact: In an on-line dictionary they have unlimited space and the per-page cost is not an issue as it is in a printed book. So, as the language shifts, I hope they continue to ensure the comprehensiveness of their online dictionaries by adding the new words and meanings and continuing to explain the old.

Conversation and literature both occur in Modern English, but conversation and literature are completely different mediums. For us to omit words from the dictionary because they have fallen out of common use in some people’s conversational milieu is shortsighted. At that point, the dictionary is not as comprehensive as we are pretending it is.

How will the landscape of our language look in fifty years? I sometimes doubt I will be understood, speaking in my ancient Northwest American dialect, using words that have no relevance. Without a comprehensive dictionary, how will the words I write today be understood by my great-grandchildren?

Prolly they won’t be.


Credits and Attributions:

Watership Down, by Richard Adams, first edition cover, Rex Collings, Publisher, 1972, Fair Use via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, May 8). Watership Down. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:37, May 13, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Watership_Down&oldid=840171659

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Facebook–A Squirrel Ran Through It

After looking at my Facebook page today I am overwhelmed. So many random thoughts are piled up in my forehead I don’t know where to begin.

41TxMnE1AjL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-70,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_First, Dean Frank Lappi has rereleased his epic fantasy-horror, Black Numbers, along with a sequel, Blood Numbers.  The Aleph Null Chronicles has to be the most unique fantasy series ever written.  This book is not for the faint of heart, or for those who shy away from explicit and at times, violent sex. Yet the sex is not for prurient purposes–Lappi’s magic is created by melding high mathmatics (the sort that explain the universe) and that most powerful of human drives, sex. I have been waiting for more than a year for this, and I guess you know what’s on Grandma’s Kindle today!

Then, there was a hilarious post by a fellow Olympia area author, Elizabeth A.. It was a link to a blog called “Death and Taxes”, and the post is called “18 Obsolete Words Which Should Never Have Gone Out of Style.” 

They are all just so awesome, it’s hard to pick my favorite! I do think “Snoutfair: A person with a handsome countenance — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk” is a real winner.

pickleupAlso there were the usual snarky, funny pictures that make the rounds.  So many posts by so many people, all intent on chatting…. If I’m Facebooking on my phone I’m in trouble. It takes me ten minutes to accurately text “On my way” so a readable post by me is out of the question. I do end up with some awesome auto-fill errors.

I love Facebook as much as I hate it.  It is a vast, time-sucking black-hole at the center of my universe, but some of the things I run across are just so hilarious.

Some things are really thought provoking. Today there was the blog post by Traci Tyne Hilton on being a writer and other people’s perceptions of you. It’s titled  “The Proof of the Writer is in the CV.”

“So the other day,when a friend called me a “new writer” my defensive nature kicked into high gear.

What did she mean by that? She just meant I hadn’t been writing long.

What did I hear when she said that? I heard: “You just picked up a pen for the first time, like, yesterday, and now look at you!” (She doesn’t talk like a Valley Girl, the voices in my head do.)”

James_Jefferys_-_Self-Portrait_-_Google_Art_Project Public DomainI think a lot of authors can relate to that feeling of “Whoa– what do you think I’ve been doing for the last 30 years?” but, just as Traci does, we realize it’s perception and semantics, and try not to feel that pang of instant outrage that we suppress and cover with a smile. Frankly, how many people actually know we’ve been holed up in a dark room with only Strunk & White and a typewriter or keyboard for companionship for all these years? Who of my coworkers knew I could wallpaper an outhouse with my letters of rejection? Failure to land a publisher for a novel you penned in your own blood and tears is a deeply personal failure, and is not something you chat about over lunch with the girls in the data-entry pool.

To be honest, before I published my first book, probably only my husband, my kids and my sister knew I had this dark secret, so it shouldn’t bother me to be called a new writer. In the eyes of the world, I am a new writer, so I’ll embrace it, and roll with it.

450px-Tamiasciurus_douglasii_37808I love all the off-the-wall, hilarious and thought provoking posts I find on my Facebook page. In fact, today I found enough to keep me from having to write for nearly 3 hours!  Woot! Now the morning is gone, I guess it’s time to sit on the back porch and read me some Dean Frank Lappi! Strange, how dark and scary he can make a summer’s day appear….

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