Utne Blogs > Literature

Website Dusts Off Unpopular Words

by Miranda Trimmier 


Tags: Great Writing, literary news, dictionary, Save the Words, OED,

dictionary pageWhen’s the last time you used the word adimpleate? Or obstrigillate? How about kexy? They’ve never exited my mouth, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never heard them uttered, either. Apparently, this neglect leaves them vulnerable: Every year, dictionaries drop words that have fallen into disuse. The website Save the Words works to save them from such a fate.

You can begin by browsing their store of endangered terms. For the truly committed, there are word-a-day emails and the option to adopt favorites—I’ve chosen vicambulate (to walk about in the streets), for instance. If your adopted word doesn’t roll off the tongue, Save the Words offers advice on getting them back into circulation, including:

Tattoos: I Love Mum. Done. Anchor. Done. Celtic Symbols. Done....Tremefy? Never done!

And:

Signboard: How about spending your lunch hour spreading the good word? That soggy salad and stale sandwich can wait while you educate the community on such insightful words as ‘scaevity’, ‘prescited’, ‘ulvose’, ‘ergote’.

Dictionaries say they trash old words to clear space for more relevant ones. Take a look at the OED’s list of their newest additions, which includes terms—like frenemy and MILF—that make me even more excited to fight for vicambulate

Image by Adam Smith, licensed under Creative Commmons.

carrie_3
1/12/2010 6:22:53 PM

I was also half-serious, and I'm not advocating newspeak by any means. However, If 95% of your listening audience doesn't know what you're saying your speech becomes abstruse and grandiloquent.


jim_1
2/23/2009 7:38:24 PM

My favourite word is "recondite" which means rarely used, rarely encountered, not widely understood. The beauty of this is that "recondite" is a "homologous"word, i.e. it applies to itself, and I love paradoxes of self-reference.


terence j cottrell
2/14/2009 6:05:03 PM

Carrie, do you mean if you don't use the word it's obsolete, or do you mean if none of your friends use the word it's obsolete, or do you mean if you've never heard the word before you Google it or you check your dictionary? I've been learning the language for over sixty years and I still hear new words and I still buy books on words, word usage and etymology at an alarming rate, and I still find it fun. Terry


arvind mohan
2/14/2009 2:38:25 PM

a


miranda trimmier
2/9/2009 8:53:21 AM

I really disagree-- underused doesn't necessarily means useless. Vicambulate's a good example. I can't think of another word that means the same thing-- it fills a really specific linguistic niche. But the site's only half serious about the 'save the word' mission anyways. I like it because it gets me thinking about subtler senses of words-- how 10 words that mean roughly the same thing aren't actually interchangeable-- and about how, in day-to-day conversation, we use so few of the words we actually know. Makes me want to use my language more expressively. And precisely. But, I've clearly gone off on a word geek tangent!


carrie swiggum
2/6/2009 3:40:23 PM

The website is cool, but if a word is not being used, it is obviously not useful--good riddance!!