Never ‘misunderestimate’ the English language

17-May-2013

The English language is an adaptable beast – constantly borrowing and reinventing itself to fit its current climate. Centuries of wars, globalization and technological development have left English a mishmash of languages, forever expanding to incorporate the latest fads, technology and culture.

In Shakespeare’s day there were only 2,000,000 speakers of English and about 100,000 words, with Shakespeare himself coining a least 1,700 of those. Now, some 1.53 billion people speak English around the globe. A recent Google / Harvard study concluded that the current number of words in the English language stands at 1,002,000 with 14.7 new words being added each day. Recently added words have come from a variety of sources:

Economics: banksters – a member of the banking industry whose irresponsible actions allegedly started the financial crisis
TV and film: slumdog – a reference to people living in slums, made popular in the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’
Fashion: chiconomics – how to maintain one’s fashion sense while tightening one’s money belt.
Environment: ecosexual – a person whose strong interest in environmental issues is reflected in everything they chose from household cleaners to romantic partners
Politics: Obamamania – the fervent admiration and support of Barack Obama
and even mistakes: misunderestimate – George Bush’s classic gaff is now famously a word used in its own right

Most notably, new English words are not just being created in English speaking countries but also in India, China, Japan and Poland to name a few. Thanks to the widespread use of the internet, English has become the world’s first global language.

It is telling that the millionth word in the English language was announced as Web 2.0, a term for the latest generation of web products. Other words in the running; twittering, sexting, de-follow, de-friend and cloud computing, all reflect the dominance of technology in our modern lives. Another contender, N00b (a term derived from the gamer community and used as a disparaging term for an inexperienced new player) is unique as the only mainstream word to combine numbers and letters. Could this introduce new trends in spelling in the future?

But language evolution is not just about new words being born, it’s also about old words dying out. Linguists estimate that a given word could expect to be in use for a maximum of 8,000 years, and that’s the more hardy ones. Most new words are fleeting and words based on current technologies and fashions can expect to have a much shorter shelf life. Some words can even fall foul to shifts in popular dialogue, for example the current demise of the word ‘whom’. Phrases such as “To whom am I speaking?”  are just not being used enough in regular conversation to survive, and ‘whom’ could soon be out of use forever.

But what other commonplace words have we lost over the years? Here are some I hope we can bring back:

twattle (1600s)
to gossip or talk idly
E.g. “I wish you’d quit twattling and get a move on.”

jargogle (1690s)
to confuse, jumble
E.g. “Physics completely jargogles my brain.”

apricity (1620s)
the sun’s warmth on a cold winter’s day
E.g. “Even in the coldest winter you sometimes get a moment of wonderful apricity.”

groak (unknown)
to watch someone while they are eating in hope that you will be asked to join them
E.g. “I can’t enjoy my meal with you groaking me the whole time.”

gorgonize (1600s)
to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect on someone
E.g. “Don’t look at her for too long. She’s so pretty, you’ll be gorgonized.”

brabble (1530s)
to argue loudly about trivial things
E.g. “Why are we still brabbling about who left the toilet seat up?”

Which words would you like to bring back? Let us know in the comments area at the bottom of the page.

Erica

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