Etymology : Words of Meaning?

“In the beginning there was the word. And the word was good”

So the 1611 AD King James bible states.

However, the word is definitely not set in stone. The English language is not the constant and unchanging yardstick we thought it was. Along with most other languages in use in the twenty-first century, it is evolving. As a result, it is the least reliable medium of communication – which ironically is supposed to be its only function.

The strict rules of grammar still apply but they’re the bricks and mortar – the words are changing daily beneath our feet. Its like a builder trying to follow his detailed plans only to be informed when he turns up for work that the house is to be made of straw not bricks at all.

William Shakespeare, arguably our greatest contributor to the language, brought over thirty thousand new words to our vocabulary. Words like affliction, dedication, compunction, punctilious, fractious, along with other scholars and writers of his age who toyed and tinkered with the format.

This was the age of enlightenment and discovery – explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake added words like: tobacco and potato and coffee, which were relative newcomers but were accepted as standard English.

All this added to the diversity and range of expression to chart our emotions and the growth of our understanding of the greatest puzzlement to humanity: man himself.

Some words are more enlightening of the age that created them than the derivation or etymology of legitimate word roots that forge its necessity of use or existence. The products of the Information Technology age have greater legitimacy than this journalistic corruption born of a laziness of construction.

E.g . Email, server, program,

Even Watergate has been debased by forced melding of expressions such as Pleb-gate used to describe any scandal of public or sensational interest.

It is the foolish man who, like King Canute wishes to turn the tide back to arrest development of the language that produced not just Shakespeare but Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Burns. Yet it behoves us as English speaking people to protect our heritage. Words are not written in stone but they should satisfy a rigid criteria in order to justify their existence.

To be worthy of recording in Dr. Samuel Johnson’s own creation, the English Dictionary, Johnson famously added colour to definitions e.g. such as ‘Oats: fed to horses in England but regarded as a staple foodstuff by the population of Scotland.’

Most new words add to the gravitas of the language’s expression but alas some don’t.

I for one will fight tooth and nail for the word: ‘Brexit’ – a journalistic expression (which is the compression of the words British and exit) to be banned from inclusion in the likes of the Oxford dictionary. This august instrument for recording newly inducted English words should not be sullied with such low grade transient slang.

However, woe betide the Canute-like belief that words, like the tide, stand still.

I hope I have coined a new word here to add but I doubt its validity.

Chris Owen

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