Lingua Nova 01

Posted: July 22, 2008 in Nomenclature

Or more simply, new lingo. The rapidity of creation of new words, language, terminology, jargon, lexicon, patois, nomenclature, argot, idiom, slang, coin, what-have-you never ceases to amaze me. It was reported recently that the English language is nearing 1 million words — a big round milestone with no real meaning or value. As with the list above, many of them are tautologies with no useful distinction from readily available words. Consider the many different terms available to express the idea of fast: rapid, quick, accelerated, speedy, hurried, swift, alacritous, brisk, expeditious, breakneck, celeritous, hasty, fleet, and precipitous. Some have distinct nuances, others are mere repetition or useless variation or meaningless noise or heedless padding or … well, you get the idea.

It was a surprise for me to learn that an authority (self-appointed, I wonder?) exists for counting words: The Global Language Monitor. The Oxford English Dictionary calls itself the definitive record of the English language. Undoubtedly someone has to decide when something becomes a legitimate word. The OED publishes a quarterly new word list, which includes some entries that are already in heavy popular use. For instance, subprime was only just admitted to the language, at least in the official sense.

Other dictionaries make their own determinations, of course, and I suspect it’s pointless to argue over which authority is correct when the new word lists don’t match up. The spell-checking features of MS Word and WordPress are certainly overmatched by this post. I don’t even dare wade into the dangerous waters of what qualifies as a legal Scrabble play. According to this article, Merriam-Webster admitted more than 100 new entries in its new Collegiate Dictionary. Among them are racino, a racetrack at which slot machines are available for gamblers; pescatarian, a vegetarian whose diet includes fish; and mondegreen, a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung. I was charmed by the etymology behind mondegreen, but pescatarian seems to me useless hairsplitting and racino is just way too hip.

Based purely on personal preference, there are plenty of new words (or perhaps mere usages if not yet officially admitted to the language) to which I’ll never submit. For instance, I’ll never use webinar to describe a seminar broadcast over the web or stacation to describe a stay-at-home vacation (usually because of financial constraints). On the other hand, I’m prone to recover and use archaic or clever vocabulary no one uses, such as fescennine to describe something scurrilous or obscene and lethean to mean forgetful or lost to oblivion. In doing so, of course, I risk sounding not like the erudite gentleman I am but a verbose asshole, but them’s the breaks.

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