Monday, September 22, 2008

Save Words!

Dictionary compilers have come up with a list of words that face possible extinction. The only way to save them is to vote on which one word you would like to "save."

Language - especially English - is an ever-changing, always evolving, animal. Like fashion, art, and cuisine, words rise in popularity and are then forgotten. Dictionary compilers make it their job to keep track of these things and update accordingly.

I see the need in this, but I want to point-out the pros and cons:

The "pro" is that, as new words become more popular, you will be able to find out exactly what they mean by turning to the latest edition of your favorite dictionary. The "con" is that, years from now, you are going to have to seek-out a period dictionary to figure these same things out! Several years ago, I wrote an entry about how "bling" was entering the dictionary, while I could not find the word "chamois" in any of the 5-10+ dictionaries I have laying around the house. Truly, how long do you think the word "bling" will be around in popular usage?

On the other hand, many older favorites use the word chamois, yet I had no idea it was some kind of furniture for months and months until I accidentally came across it somewhere else (probably online)! Worse, the story in which I'd encountered it (Raymond Chandler) used it as just another piece of furniture or accessory; there was no way of deducing its meaning in context.

I feel safe in saying that, 50 years from now, people will still be reading Chandler and wondering what a chamois is, while any piece that uses the word "bling" is going to be pretty easy to figure out in context - assuming the work stands the test of time! Even then, there will still be enough people who remember the usage left to define it.

But another "pro" is the Internet itself, where space is basically unlimited. Print dictionaries really are as much relics of the past as the words their compilers are considering eliminating. In 50 years, I'm pretty sure readers will be able to find just about any word ever in usage somewhere online. There may be a "Decade 2000" dictionary site they will need to reference in order to find the word bling, but larger dictionaries will have links to them.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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