Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Learning new words or old words?

Drama queen.  Decandy.  Podsnap.  Geophony.  Two words are new; two are old.  They all seem like words I might have used for my middle grade fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves.  Because its action happens on a star, I made up a few words there.  If your kids are impatient for Halloween, it might ready them.  The wayward Sadie leads her friends into an enchantment where their Halloween costumes become real.

Words.  I began reading before grade school and still believe that the best way for learning is to begin with fascinating subject matter (like Peter Rabbit).  Learning words will happen as they appear in context and are encountered again.  Somehow I accepted the words implored and exert only because Beatrix Potter used them for her picture book.
There are so many new words appearing in the English language that we learn as they come.  I was waiting for an appointment, reading People magazine, when I encountered the word sexting.  Whatever it was, I began to understand it from the context.  I guess its definition might be "suggestive texting." 
From The Jesuit Post
The English language is often accused of having the most words of any language in the world.  Even this year’s new dictionary words warn us that the English language is expanding like the universe.  I knew a few of the new words, could guess some, and would have to look up others.

In the Webster Merriam, supersize probably refers to photo programs, drama queen was a word I’d heard, sandwich generation was one I was learning.    

What was more curious were the new additions to the Oxford English Dictionary, terms that were American to me:  Kennedyesque, Scotchgarding, superbabe, cybercast, and urbanscape.  You have to wonder if these terms will be used in future decades, and if they will be looked up.

Even more cryptic to people who are not up on things and probably very cryptic to future readers are new words in the Cambridge Dictionary:  applepick –  to steal someone’s iPhone; twittion – a Twitter petition; geophony – combined sounds of the natural world.

When computers were first introduced, the word menu irritated me.  That word only referred to restaurants then, and when I saw it on a computer, I imagined the guys thinking about lunch.  It didn’t do much for my stomach because the "menu" was about files. 

When the alternative to aspirin was ibuprofen, I refused to buy it, mostly because I couldn’t pronounce or spell the term as easily as people who were in-the-know.  In The House in Windward Leaves, words are made up in the Halloween land because a doctor and nurse, transformed there, needed to name the conditions of a patient who was enchanted into continually being a patient. 

If a reader doesn’t mind learning new words or their context, they might not mind college English courses.  Many complain that past literature is unreadable because of the outdated words and style.  As a used book dealer, I know there are still people out there who are comfortable about plowing through obsolete styles and words as much as with-it readers are eager to learn newly invented words. 

Shakespeare’s picturesque word decandy (melt away) might have been a dandy word in my Halloween fantasy.  I remember liking his word dissemble because it somehow made visual the meaning of faking.

“I let my flankers on both wings spread to the right and left, and make what dust they could….”  - The Travels of Baron von MunchausenFlankers sounds like something on my Windward Leaves enchanted planet.  But the word tells about Baron von Munchausen, from a book that I soon learned to watch for in 19th century editions.  People collect it for its fabulous content and because it was a good Twentieth century movie.

Footpads is another word that might seem contemporary.  And it would fit the villain of The House in Windward Leaves with its definition, “thieves who rob pedestrians.”  Edgar Allen Poe used it.  Podsnap might be mistaken for a newly invented word but it is Charles Dickens’s, meaning “a person having an attitude marked by complacency and the willful ignoring of unpleasant facts.”  

Women are reading Jane Austen again which means that they are willing to digest words like auspicate.  Having re-read Jane Eyre recently, I can appreciate why people avoid Charlotte Bronte’s style and words such as animadversion.  Still, I recently had to crane my brain at “new tricks” words such as analog VGA inputs when shopping for a new computer monitor. 

Do you yay or nay new words?  Who makes them up?   Which words in old books should we eliminate and replace in digital editions?   I felt strongly about some of these unusual words and I wonder if word use isn’t a natural democratic process.

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