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The WWW - 'Weird Word of Words'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 3 Nov 2012, 20:44


Inspired by The History of English…in just a minute x10

I've got 'The Secret Life of Words' out again to enjoy a sustained romp through the WWW (weird world of words).

I think Dr Who with ADHD having to explain his preference for these Isles in a 60 second count down to the end of the universe.

Which words leave you discombobulated?

Which ones left you tickled pink?

My journey through the English language has been refreshed.

I have read his ‘The Secret Life of Words. How English Became English’ from cover to cover.

I’ll have to read his book on Dr Johnson’s Dictionary next. Or get my hands on Mencken’s book on ‘The American Language’ which the late Alistair Cook would often quote.

I’ve learnt about loan words, calques and coinage; words taken straight from a foreign language, expressions that are literal translations of a foreign language and invented words.

English is a language of constant invention.

I have a put down from the 16th century for any new fangled multiple-syllable techno babble I come across. I can call the author a 'Controversialist' - a writer who spurts out horrid polysyllables; and I might use the line, ‘such addicts of exotic terms would rarely use a short word where a long alternative could be found.' From John Florio's A Worlde of Wordes (1598)

I love the French loan word 'Escargatoire' which is 'a nursery of snails'.

It amuses me that William Fox Talbot wanted to call photography ‘photogenic drawing' while after Louis Daguerre we have ‘daguerreotype’ but pushed by Sir John Hersche ‘photography’ and ‘photo’ caught on. (Queen Victoria asked a grand-daughter for a 'photo' in a letter so that diminutive, the word not Herr Majesty, has older and loftier origins than we may have imagined).

I thought of ‘stakeholder’ as a word that had to be 1970s corporate speak, only to learn that it was first used in 1850, along with 'entrepreneur' and 'capitalist.'

Etiquette has become ‘netiquette’ online

This is a Georgian notion and appears in Johnson's dictionary of 1818. One piece of advice given regarding etiquette is to 'be discreet and sparing of your words.'

Hitchings leaves mention of the Internet to the last pages of the final paragraph 'Online communities, which are nothing if not eclectic, prove an especially rich breeding ground for new words.'

* extremes

* deliriously ludic (sic)

* personalised

* localised

‘The History of English…in ten minutes’

Voiced by Clive Anderson, Scripted by Jon Hunter (R4 Mock the Week/The News Quiz)

“When did English speaking scientists get round to naming the most intimate of the sexual body parts?

'The History of English' squeezes 1600 years of history into 10 one-minute bites, uncovering the sources of English words and phrases from Shakespeare and the King James Bible to America and the Internet'.

Philip Sergeant (FELS) was the academic consultant.

The idea is based on the Open University course 'Worlds of English'.


The Secret Life of Words. How English Became English. Henry Hitchings. 2008

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