Tue March 12, 2013
Words, Words, Words... commentary from Joan Carris
Every aspect of language intrigues me: writing, reading, speaking, creative cursing—all of it. Experts don’t know where or when language first began, but they do know that all human societies on record have possessed language. Words are the building blocks of language, and they appear seemingly out of nowhere, while others become outdated and are rarely used.
Frequency of use is the key. When new words become dependable regulars, major dictionaries include them. Then we think of them as “real words,” no matter how strange they may have sounded at first.
Some words move into the dictionary because – after they’re here- it seems as if they should have been here all along. They combine roots or syllables that we know well. Consider the words chillax, frenemy, and megachurch, which have just been added to the official list of words in the English language. Chillax, from chill out and relax, is a logical offspring of its parents. Your friend who often argues with you is your frenemy, of course. And megachurch seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? My favorite in this category is a word formed from the prefix auto and the adverb magically, giving us automagically, to describe anything that happens automatically in a way that seems magical.
Inventions like the computer spawn entirely new terms: blog, website, and google, for instance. Old, familiar words such as up and down, server and browser, acquire additional, brand new meanings. That’s fine, but I think they should not have messed with the word mouse. A mouse is a small, furry rodent with an inquisitive nose, two ears, and a tail. A personal, live mouse is a great pet.
The really startling new words are the most fun. When you first hear them you say, “Huh?” For example, the new adjective bargainous describes a purchase that was less costly than you had expected. I would like to but have never been able to term a medical prescription bargainous.
If you describe a situation in highly lurid terms, making it seem far worse than it actually is, you are catastrophizing. As an example…Once upon a time, our younger daughter tore out of the family room and into the kitchen, hollering, “He‘s always picking on us! You have to stop him right now!” The “he” was our only son, three years old at the time.
When I went into the family room to investigate, I found him sitting across the room from his older, nine year-old sister. The six year-old, the one who’d come for help, cried, “See? He keeps stabbing us with those Tinker Toys!”
I didn’t understand until he held up a long, wobbly stick. “It’s a Long-Range Botherer,” he said proudly. “I made it all by myself.” He poked the nine year-old, who said, “MOMMMM!
This entire skirmish, I now see, was catastrophized, just like most children’s squabbles. What a wonderful new word! And what fun it is to look forward to more of them. I truly heart words!
© Joan Carris