Rescue a word today!
New words make our language richer, or most of them do. But what about the ones we are losing? Howard Jacobson of the Independent makes the case for rescuing some endangered words.
People I talk to about my love of the English language often assume that I will disapprove of newly coined words.
Actually, no. One of the delights of our language is that we cheerfully adopt words from everywhere and make them our own. We always have. This habit enriches the language and gives us choice about how we say things. When we need a word, we create one. Mobile phones created the need for a word for the other sort of phone, so we got "land line", the same applies to a "desk top" computer. Have you heard a neat way of describing non-decaffeinated coffee? Caffeinated is the obvious, boring answer but there are lots of others in use.
Latin is dead - adopt from the Italians now
Take the word "panini" which means "bread rolls" in Italian, make the meaning narrower so it is now a particular type of roll complete with filling that you buy in a sandwich shop and ask them to heat up. Make it singular and add an "s" to prove that it is a fully integrated English word. Now we can have a panini or a couple of paninis, much to the bemusement of visiting Italians (and MS Word - it gets me a red wiggly line).
Choose your level of formality
We can use different words for formal or informal language without ever lapsing into the ungrammatical or impolite:
The enquiry telephone number is available in the event that further information is required.
Means the same as:
If you have any questions, please phone the helpline
Apart from "the", every word in these two sentences is different. They are both grammatically correct but they have a very different "feel" and we would use them for different readers and in different circumstances.
No, what upsets me is when useful distinctions get blurred because people no longer understand them. There is a clear distinction between "disinterested" and "uninterested", but apparently it is only understood by a small proportion of the population. Little by little, literate people stop using them because their readers will misunderstand them. That saddens me because it makes the language poorer.
Howard Jacobson from the Independent makes this point persuasively in his article, "In the face of overwhelming ignorance, it is the pedant's duty to keep battling on." He says:
Differentiation matters. Ignorance is not argument. Disinterestedness is not another word for "Whadever!". We are quick to outlaw words when they don't suit the temper of the times. We should, to defy the temper of the times, try rescuing a few.
Take positive action
Why don't you choose a word to rescue? Like endangered species, some are more fun than others. A Sumatran tiger word would be something like "discombobulate" (it does exist, look it up). A grey-backed beetle (I made that up) word would be something like "continual" which is different from "continuous". Pick one and start using it absolutely accurately whenever you can. Have fun and post your ideas here!