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Save the Words: Lexicon Recycling

“Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language. Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.”

As means of communication change, the words used to actually communicate change with them. In a far cry from ye olde days of long, scrawled epistles to friends and lovers and epic masterpieces of novels, 90% of everything we write today is communicated by a mere 7,000 different words.

While this may seem sufficient, it’s actually pretty sad, when looked at in the context of the English language as a glorious whole.

The  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, 47,156 obsolete words and 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words. And that, sadly, 90% of our communication as human beings is being defined by a paltry 2.8% of the fantastic vocabulary available to us.

Each year, lexicographers track the frequency of word usage in popular culture and media to decide which words will go into the dictionary. (This year, ‘defriend’, ‘tweetup’, ‘bromance’, ‘chillax’ and ‘frenemy’ were some of the lucky winners to make the cut.) Along with the up and comers, though, these professional wordsmiths also track the falling popularity of words and opt to remove them.

Save the Words, a lovable initiative of the Oxford English Dictionary, has set out to ensure that these less-lauded words don’t follow the same path as the dinosaurs. The website allows you to browse a wall of rare words, be given a random word, or search for a word to see if it’s in danger of extinction. Once you find a word to your liking, the fellow word nerds behind the site encourage you to adopt the word, finding room for it in everyday conversations and written communication, and even to say vows regarding your new foster word.

“I hereby promise to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the best of my ability.”

The logic behind this is that every time you use the word, you’re keeping it alive and well in the English language. So don’t be a banal snollygoster – go explore the site, fall in love with a word and use it gaudiloquently.

Article By: Megan Weisenberger

View Comments to “Save the Words: Lexicon Recycling”

  1. Forest says:

    “Frenemy” did not make the dictionary … please tell me you’re facetious …

  2. Megan says:

    Unfortunately, yes it did. However, ‘bargainous’ also made it, which might cancel out the awfulness of ‘bromance’.

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