What Words Would You Like to See Go Extinct?


Researchers in England studying linguistics and evolution have come up with a scientific way of establishing how old certain words are, and conversely they’ve been able to predict (with what accuracy is yet to be seen) which words are likely to be soonest dropped from our lexicon. Using a computer model and some fancy math that’s way over this reporter’s head (read the story and tell me if you get what they’re saying) the group at University of Reading analyzes the rate of change of words in English and languages that share a common heritage.

The researchers claim that “I”, “we”, “two” and “three” are among the most ancient, dating back tens of thousands of years. Using their crystal ball, they predict “squeeze”, “guts”, “stick” and “bad” will be likely first casualties.

The article says:
“Across the Indo-European languages – which include most of the languages spoken from Europe to the Asian subcontinent – the vocal sound made to express a given concept can be similar.

New words for a concept can arise in a given language, utilizing different sounds, in turn giving a clue to a word’s relative age in the language.

At the root of the Reading University effort is a lexicon of 200 words that is not specific to culture or technology, and is therefore likely to represent concepts that have not changed across nations or millennia. … The model provides a list of words that are unlikely to have changed from their common ancestral root by the time of William the Conqueror.”

My thoughts: If you include technology and culture, which these days pretty much synonymous, you would see a huge crop of new words. You’ve got instant messaging, text messaging, blogging and the latest: “Twitter” with all its annoying derivatives, like Tweet, as in to post a micro-blog on Twitter.

These words are fine. Some of them may be short lived. Other words have crept into our vocabulary over the past couple decades that should be wearing out their welcome any time now, not because their concepts are bad, simply from overuse: “accountability,” “transparency” and my personal pick for the linguistic bone yard, “empowerment.”

Words I wouldn’t want to have to live without: crustacean (I just love the sound of it), morbid (useful for describing so many things), discombobulate (slightly dated; I worry for its safety), and phantasmagorical (from Dave’s List of Words that Are Fun to Say) – I so hope I get to use this at least once in my career as a reporter.

How about you? What words would you annihilate if you were Word Czar of the world (or at least the English language)? What words do you cherish?

What does this have to do with South Kitsap? Communication is my business; I cover South Kitsap. Six degrees of separation … it’s all related.

14 thoughts on “What Words Would You Like to See Go Extinct?

  1. I cannot stand modern use of the work “Like”.

    I even recall a couple of years ago; an acceptance speech by an English teacher who was receiving an award for teacher of the year using “Like”. Example (not an exact quote): “Thank you. It was like the students that like made this all possible. They are uh like the best.”

    What happened to teaching and requiring proper English in school?

  2. I’d get rid of them all, if only to watch a contingent struggle, squirm, then desperately beg for them to be reinstated.

  3. Crepes were on my plate. Missed you at “Eco Fest” today.

    Excellent crepes, but relatively low attendance at the “Eco Fest”.

    Regards,
    Kathryn Simpson

  4. Sunday was a rare ‘day off’ in a hectic schedule. Was it that crepe guy from Kingston?

    You and I are overdue for an IslandWood date. Anyone else want to join us?

    Don’t you all just love how we’re using the blog to chat one another up? 😉

  5. I hope Chris appreciates the lighter side of bloggers from time to time. 😉

    Yes, it was the crepe guy from Kingston. A friend/co-worker is up from San Diego helping us on a project and I’m going to suggest a trip up there for lunch tomorrow.

    How about Islandwood in May? Pick an afternoon on a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday. If I wasn’t on a project that is going to keep me quite busy for six to eight weeks, I’d love to do it sooner. But alas, one word I’d like to become extinct before summer is “overtime”.

    Regards,
    Kathryn Simpson

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