I recently read an article which was talking about some interesting literature-related websites. The one website that caught my eye was Save The Words. The website is about a campaign to save words that may shortly be removed from the dictionary because they are not being used any more.
The topic of this website was a little unsettling for me. I knew that words went out of fashion or were obsolete and I actually studied the change of the English language in college. I am aware of Middle English which Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales, and Early Modern English used by Shakespeare and Milton.
Even so it is kind of sad to see a word be eliminated, or allowed to go extinct. Extinction is pretty brutal. It appears we don’t care if words just go away. That behavior is not consistent with other things that are endangered and are on th path of extinction. In the U.S. we even have a cabinet position, Department of Interior, which is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the government protects endangered and threatened plants and animals (listed species) and the habitats upon which they depend. EPA’s Endangered Species Protection Program (ESPP) helps promote the recovery of listed species.
The laws indicates that species should be saved for “aesthetic and moral justifications; the importance of wild species as providers of products and services essential to human welfare; the value of particular species as indicators of environmental health or as keystone species crucial to the functioning of ecosystems; and the scientific breakthroughs that have come from the study of wild organisms”
There are numerous conservation efforts to prevent species from going extinct. These species go onto an endangered species list, which puts some legal protection for the species with the intention to recover the species so that they are no longer endangered. An example of this preventive work is the relocation of a species or a reduction of factors that may be causing the species to die out.
There have been many success stories for this type of activity, including:
- Bald Eagle (increased from 417 to 11,040 pairs between 1963 and 2007); removed from list 2007
- Whooping Crane (increased from 54 to 436 birds between 1967 and 2003)
- Peregrine Falcon (increased from 324 to 1,700 pairs between 1975 and 2000); removed from list
- Grizzly bear (increased from about 271 to over 580 bears in the Yellowstone area between 1975 and 2005); removed from list 3/22/07
Now what about the word? Who is preventing words from going extinct? I am pretty sure there is not a cabinet position to protect words. Shouldn’t words be preserved due to the “aesthetic and moral justification.” What could be more precious to us than the English language?
Here are a few words that are or have been endangered. I picked these words for two reason: I like the sound of them along with their meaning interesting, or I like the word because I could use it in my day-to-day work at my job.
boreism (noun); behavior of a boring person
[I didn’t know this is a word, but I have sat in many meetings with boreism managers.]
cynicocratical (adjective) pertaining to rule by cynics
[I just like the sound of this, especially when I deal with some cynical co-workers at my place of employment.]
Ecstasiate (v) to go into an ecstasy; to cause to become ecstatic
[I am pretty sure the work ecstasy is not going away. So why wouldn’t we keep the work ecstasiate?]
foppotee (n) simpleton
[Simpleton is such a dull word, but foppotee has a nice ring to it.]
pudify (v) to cause to be ashamed
[ I think that I could use the word pudify in a sentence and it would have real impact. For example the next time I see a person littering and messing up the environment I could pudify him]
solennial (adj) occurring once a year; annual
[ I just think solennial is a nicer sounding word rather than annual.]
tremefy (v) to cause to tremble
The word tremefy actually sound like its definition. The Wizard of Oz tremefied the Lion.]
uglyography (n) bad handwriting; poor spelling
[Now the word uglyography is very representative of its definiton, but it is not a very pleasant word. I suspect this word has been replaced by a more politically correct word, dysgraphia, which has less harshness to it.]
Here are some colorful words that have not been removed from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Furgling”, which is the act of fumbling in your pocket for keys or loose change; “dringle”, the watermark left by a glass of liquid, and “earworm”, a catchy tune that you can’t get out of your head. Read more about this at: http://bit.ly/ictQ9K
As I was doing some research on this subject I ran into an article about a group who conducted a study which indicates that the evolution of the words are a representation of the culture at the time they are being use. To describe this they call it culturomics. They created an application with Google labs that evaluates the usage of a word’s frequency over periods of time. Take a look at the graph that evaluates the word”terrorist.” It is interesting that the usage of the word drastically increased in the year 2001, which is when terrorists hit the World Trade Centers. Since that event the word has continued to be used more frequently every year.
All of this still makes me ponder about the issue of words being removed from the English language. For words there is no conservation department taking actions to prevent a word from going extinct. There is no law protecting the word. There is no penalty if a word goes away. There are no advertisements pleading for help to save a word. And there is no special programs in the school systems to educate children on the protection of words.
I see I am not the only one worked up about this topic. Check out M. Andrew Sprong’s article Should unused words be removed from new editions of English dictionaries? I also found some groups the were trying to banish some words and phrases. Take a look at the article Lake Superior State University 2010 List ob Banished Words. Some of the words/phrases they want banished include: Tsar, Tweet, Friend (used as a verb), and In these economic times.
If you value the English word, take a look at the Save the Words website. You can sign up to receive by email a word a day with the expectation you will use the word in conversation or in writing on that day. This is a little different from the typical word of the day applications that are used to expand your vocabulary. The nice thing about this application is you can expand your vocabulary and participate in a ’cause’ to prevents words from being eliminated from the English language. On this site you can also adopt a word, which means you promise to use the word in conversation.
[The situation may be more serious than I thought. All of the endangered words I listed in this blog were not recognized as words in my spell check.]
Five Literary Treats by Carolyn Kellogg; Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2010
We Are Words by Stephen Ornes; technology review (published by MIT); Friday, December 17, 2010
M. Andrew Sprong’s article Should unused words be removed from new editions of English dictionaries?; Helium