Tuesday, October 14, 2008


While reading the weekend paper - as you do - I came across a list of words that are due for extinction.

These are words no longer used by people other than those who wish to show off, at least here in Australia. I've never heard of them, but does that mean they should be written out of dictionaries?

Skirr: the sound a bird's wing makes in flight.

Fubsy: short and stout.

Niddering: cowardly.

Caliginosity: dimness.

Embrangle: embroil/entangle.

Oppugnant: combative.

Fatidical: prophetic.

As you can see, not common. But if we'd retained words, writers like Shakespeare and Chaucer wouldn't be the torment they are today (and I wouldn't have such a hard time deciphering Medieval recipes). Then again, if you think of how large the Oxford English Dictionary is (20 volumes), how much bigger would it be if all English words were preserved?

The OED is updated quarterly with between one and two thousand new and revised word definitions. It is also the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language - which is why I use it.

The argument to delete certain words is a good one, but I can't help thinking some words should remain. Oppugnant is a great word, so is niddering. The others, well... I can see why they've fallen out of use. Perhaps the OED should produce a dictionary of deleted words. I'd like to have one and I'm sure many scholars would too, if only to see the genesis of the English language.

Maybe Bill O'Reilly could use them: "When writing to us, please do not be oppugnant."

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