7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018

Recycling of used words

OLD words, I have always felt, are usually so much better than new ones, and my views on the matter have been strongly confirmed by a list I have just received from the good people at Oxford University Press.

Only last week, I received a note from them about their recently published edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English.

This, they proudly explained, includes more than 2,000 new entries, reflecting words and expressions that have barged their way into the language in the five or six years since the previous edition.

'Quantitative easing' is there, of course, as is 'netbook', but many of the new entries sound even worse, to my ears, than the 'vuvuzela', which also crept in at the last minute.

Do we really need 'turducken' for a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey, when chefs already have the splendid word 'engastration' for the business of stuffing one creature inside another?

And isn't 'bargainous' just an ugly way to say 'inexpensive' or 'cheap'?

What fascinated me most of all, however, was the question of which words they have left out to make room for the new batch.

I know that the full Oxford English Dictionary never throws anything out, seeing it as its duty to maintain a historical record of the English language, but the Oxford Dictionary of English is meant to reflect the language as it is now spoken.

So I wrote to the chaps at OUP to ask which words had been shown the linguistic red card.

"We don't generally give out the full list," a very helpful lexicographer told me, but he attached a sample of relegated words "to give you an idea of what we do take out". And what a glorious list it is!

No longer can we refer to anyone with literary or bookish pretensions as 'booksy', nor can we use the term 'mouse potato' for someone who wastes a lot of time on the computer.

'Cheque cards' and 'cassette decks' have been left behind by the rapid growth of technology, while for some reason OUP will no longer allow us to roast a chicken in a 'chicken brick'.

I suppose we are meant to use a turducken brick instead, in these enlightened engastricated days.

'Balibuntal', which used to be a fine close-woven straw used for making hats, has been dumped on the linguistic rubbish tip, together with 'sagbag' (a large beanbag used as a seat) and 'rubby' (an alcoholic who habitually drinks rubbing alcohol).

I shed a tear to think that I shall never again see a rubby wearing a balibuntal hat, seated on a sagbag while swigging from a bottle of alcoholic embrocation.

Most of all, however, I lament the passing of apple-knocker and baggywrinkle.

The former (informally and in the US) is a person who sells apples or a derogatory term for an ignorant or unsophisticated person, while baggywrinkle was the word for rope yarns would around parts of a ship's rigging to prevent chafe.

What hope is there now, I ask myself, to save the unsophisticated apple-seller in a balibuntal hat from chafing when plying his trade on a ship?

click on image to view the digital edition