Word lovers of the world unite

February 19, 2009

The gatekeepers at Collins are discombobulated because there are too many words for their dictionary so they’re seeking to cull some of those which are seldom used.

The Times has taken up the cudgels for the words which are languishing on the list of linguistic losers –  or as it puts it, those in danger of fading into caliginosity – with a call for readers to rush to their rescue.

If you want to save one from what  Comment Central calls the semantic scrapheap you can go there to  vote for your favourite from a list of 24 which are doomed by the designers’ desire to detruncate the dictionary.

I can understand that there are financial and practical constraints on the size of a dictionary but I share the The Virtual Linguist’s  concerns:

I was surprised at some of the comments made by journalists and readers, many of whom had the attitude ‘So what? There are far too many words in English anyway’.  I was reminded of George Orwell’s Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where undesirable words were eliminated from the language and ‘reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum’ (from the appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four).

I may not like the juxtaposition of rural and rustic with unpolished and uncouth in the definition of agrestic, but that’s no reason to vilipend it or regard it as recrement.

Breadth and depth of language are intrinsic parts of our ability to communicate and help us not just to articulate our thoughts and feelings but to recognise them in the first place.

Besides, if these words disappear from the dictionary where do you go to determine their definition when you come across them?

I went to Save The Words for guidence but found it a temporary state of apanthropinization.

Hat Tip: Jim Mora


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