Perspective: lost for words over new language

THERE was a time when people did not have a word for the phenomenon of the earth and sky merging in a single whiteness under certain climatic conditions, writes John Adams. Then someone had the bright idea of calling it whiteout. That s the last reference

THERE was a time when people did not have a word for the phenomenon of the earth and sky merging in a single whiteness under certain climatic conditions, writes John Adams. Then someone had the bright idea of calling it whiteout.

That's the last reference I'll make this week to the dreadful cold stuff which is changing our landscape as I write.

A much more warming subject is the creation of English words which, of course, has been going on ever since language was invented.

It was all of 255 years ago when Samuel Johnson finished his mammoth task of compiling a dictionary which has since been hailed as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship".


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It pre-dated the Oxford English Dictionary by 173 years.

In the years spanning those two events - and for much of the time since - the English language has evolved slowly, picking up additions here and there.

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But there has been a noticeable change in recent decades. As the pace of life has increased, so has the number of new words being invented.

These days there seems to be a constant flurry of them tumbling over each other in the race to be noticed and catch on.

Perhaps in their desperation to create something new, people are coming up with more and more bizarre offerings.

A new study highlighting words which have emerged in the last year makes fascinating reading but I can't say that I will be adding many - if any - to my vocabulary.

As a silver surfer not born to computers, I must admit to having difficulty in keeping up with all the technology specific words coming along.

I learn that "unfriend" (of course the computer spell check does not recognise it) has been voted the New Oxford American Dictionary word of the year.

It is the sort of word a child may come up with when they cannot think of the proper way to say they have fallen out with someone but in fact it means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook. Its alternative is the equally unattractive "defriend".

So what other new words? How about "tweetups"? It is not a description of a bunch of happy canaries on a tree branch but apparently is to do with meetings organised by means of posts on the social networking service Twitter.

Then there are zombie banks. These do not hold the forgotten accounts of dead people but are financial institutions with more liabilities than assets which continue to operate because of government (that's taxpayer) support.

In the business world they are talking about "minute mentoring", "freemiums" and "paywalls" (bring back the Plain English Campaign).

"Staycations", meaning holidaying at home rather than abroad because of the recession, struck me as being a convoluted word when I first heard it.

Leggings have been replaced by "jeggings" in fashion while in the world of politics a shrewd, unprincipled person has become know as a "snollygoster". I can think of much more descriptive and comprehensible words for shady characters in the corridors of power.

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