Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Word up...

Did anyone happen to see Newsnight last night, or read The Guardian on Monday? 

Having a degree in Applied Language Studies I tend to take an interest in, or prick my ears up at, anything of a linguistic nature. So I was intrigued when Paxo introduced a piece to camera about the "ethnic cleansing of the Oxford English Dictionary".

It is claimed that eminent Lexicographer, Robert Burchfield, deleted thousands of words from the OED, on the basis that they were of foreign origin, during his tenure as Editor between 1972 and 1986.

It's thought that Burchfield deleted around 17% of loan words and other World-English words that had been included in previous editions.

He was clearly on some sort of misguided one man crusade to protect the English language from the 'vagaries' of the tongues of far flung lands. Perhaps he modeled his Editorship on L'Acadamie Francaise and wanted England to follow suit in the safeguarding of its vernacular? Who knows? Whichever way you look at it, it was exceedingly myopic.

The sheer beauty of English lies in the fact that it is transient, fluid and ever changing. It's an organic entity that evolves with every new generation, every new fashion, every new fad; where society goes, language will be sure to follow. Our lives, and lexicon, have surely been enriched, for instance, by recent additions such as vajazzle (OK so maybe not that enriched); omnishambles; photobomb and totes.

It is a rich and flourishing tapestry made up of old words, new words, portmanteau words, loan words, blended words. In other,er, words, English is, like, totes amaze.

I'm not sure what Burchfield's agenda was exactly, but to have purposefully curtailed the wondrous beast that we call the English Language is tantamount, in my very humble opinion, to committing linguacide*. 

Thanks (cough) to him we have missed out on, according to The Guardian, these fine specimens:

Shape - A Tibetan councillor
Chancer - A verb from American English meaning "to tax"
Calabazilla - A wild Mexican squash
Wading-place - Used to refer to a ford
Swamp fuchsia - Common name in Australian English for Eremophilia maculata, a species found in Queensland

My favourite? Undoubtedly 'Calabazilla'. It positively rolls off the toungue and is almost lyrical in its intonation. I'm not sure when I'd ever have call to use it, but it's probably one of those words you'd use joyously and liberally just because, well, you could.

Now, excuse me while I go and see a Shape about a Swamp fuchsia...


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