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Save the Words!

Several TV commercials have recently reminded me of my ongoing mourning of the loss of some words from my native tongue. I decided to do a blog post about it. Each time a dictionary goes into a new version, in order to make room for new words that have been coined, the editors must consider dropping words that are seldom used by the public at large. The following are the kinds of words they look at:

vectarious = belonging to a wagon or carriage

jussulent = full of broth or soup

caliginosity = dimness

jollux = fat person

griseous = somewhat gray (Hey, I can now claim that word as my own!)

As I prepared for this post, I was surprised to learn about a website that's been set up to rescue words that may be dropped from dictionaries. The site is called Save the Words. On this site I learned that 90% of what people say is communicated with a total of only 7,000 vocabulary words. Below is a screenshot from that site:

The site encourages people to "adopt" endangered words and to save them from extinction by using them. As your cursor passes over words, they cry out for you to pick them. When you click on a word, a dialog box pops up with a definition of the word and the word used in a sentence. The Oxford dictionaries are hoping that people's adopting and using some of these almost archaic words will save them from vanishing from the dictionary by putting them back into common usage. I'm honestly not sure how that will go.

That's not quite what I have in mind, though, as I mourn the words the English language is losing. I'm actually thinking of more common words like lose, nauseated, the helping verb have, and fewer, to name a few. These words seem to be vanishing from the English language as a result of careless usage.

I far more frequently see loose when people mean to say lose, as in I hope we don't loose the game this weekend. I guess that would be especially important to those who try to keep a tight rein on their games.

I have to admit that I'm not always a good boy when people I know tell me they are nauseous. I put my hand over my mouth, recoil a little, and say something like, "You certainly are!" My older American Heritage dictionary gives as the first definition for nauseous "causing nausea, sickening." There is a usage note stating that the use of nauseous in the sense of nauseated (suffering from nausea) is unacceptable. Modern dictionaries, such as dictionary.com, seem to be caving to current (mis)usage, putting the formerly unacceptable definition as the first definition.

Today in my MLF202 class we will be learning the past conditional — I would have done this and I would not have done that. Each year I tell my students, "You might know this better as would of or woulda and wouldna, but in English it's really would have and would not have." Some smile knowingly, while others look puzzled, as if I'm speaking a foreign language or something. But it's harder to learn to say those things in French if you can't see the exact, word-for-word correlation between those French verb forms and the English verb forms. The same thing happens all the time, though, as people say and write should of, could of, might of, etc., instead of should have, could have, might have.

The last one in my list above — the use of less instead of fewer with a plural noun — is actually the one that I have heard several times recently and that rekindled my thinking about lost words. Proper usage of fewer would result in a sentence less carelessness produces fewer mistakes, instead of a sentence using the word less twice. It's rare to hear someone use fewer correctly! I have to admit that that distinction is more difficult in English. French, German, and Spanish do not differentiate — in French both contexts use moins, German weniger, and Spanish menos. But still! 🙂

How about you — are you mourning the loss of any word/s? Maybe not. I'm not sure this blog post will save any words from extinction, unless maybe my descendants keep my blog online for years to come. I truly am not trying to be a little, old curmudgeon, but as a believer and as a language teacher, I strongly believe that words are of huge importance. God chose (not choose, by the way...) to communicate His truth to us through the written word, every word of which is important. As individual words lose their meanings, language loses its ability to communicate clearly. This is a bigger subject than can be tackled in one blog post, but maybe my dear readers will add further insights in the comments section.

Stepping off the soapbox...


"Be what you wish your child to be" – Jayson Byrd

=^..^= =^..^=

I misplaced my dictionary and now I'm at a loss for words.

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12 Comments on “Save the Words!”

  1. #1 Vikki
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Fewer and less – there are a number of stores that STILL haven’t fixed that one at their checkouts, as in “20 items or less”.

    Oh and how about when people say “and he goes” instead of “and he said”. I can sorta forgive kids when they say it, but adults over 50 should know better. This one really bugs me.

    When I was young, a Tareyton cigarettes commercial ruined a whole generation, and all generations after it, with their “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch” campaign which ran for a number of years in the 60’s. The use of “us” was suppose to be an attention grabber, but to the kids of that time it sounded normal and hence an entire generation grew up never knowing it was incorrect. I think I was into adulthood before I learned it should have been “we”. Even to this day the proper use of it still sounds wrong to my ears.

  2. #2 Ruth
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Thanks! I recently taught the kids the difference between fewer and less, though time will tell if they truly learned it. 🙂 My dad was a big help in using and encouraging proper grammar, and I’m very grateful to him. The misused word that I hear most often and bothers me most is the word “lay” – it’s not in danger of being lost, just misplaced!

  3. #3 Jan
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 9:53 am


    Please add “peruse” to your list. If both “examine” and “skim” are synonyms, what should I do when I’m asked to peruse something?

  4. #4 Michael
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I agree with you that this is a problem. We are rewarding laziness by allowing words to change in meaning and in usage. Languages do evolve over time but laziness that results in greater imprecision of language will result in greater confusion and misunderstanding.

    I am bothered more by words being used for purposes they weren’t intended for. They are treated almost like euphemisms. One is issue. People now don’t have problems they have issues. Additionally is impact when it is used as anything other than a noun. I was impacted by that song. How about moved or affected? And, he is the most impactful player on the team. That one really gets me.

    I think sometimes people like to use a new or different word in place of the more commonly accepted one in order to provide greater emphasis or draw greater attention to what they’re saying. All in all it is bothersome.

  5. #5 Lori Fox
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 11:27 am

    How are we supposed to play fictionary anymore if they take out all the words nobody’s ever heard of ?

  6. #6 Kim Guilliams
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    These bother me, too! Although, I admit that there are a few grammar rules I drop in casual conversation. Just recently I neglected to use the subjunctive case when talking to my mom, and I thought she was going to pass out. We always used the subjunctive growing up (which was helpful when learning French!), but I didn’t know many people who did.

    My big pet peeve is a singular subject with a plural pronoun, like “Every student brought their book.” Aaaaaaaaah!

    Of course, that’s not as bad as the group of teenagers I overheard at the mall discussing how to spell the word “love.” One girl honestly thought it was spelled “luv.”

  7. #7 Doodie H.
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I am frustrated by “drive safe” (a slogan here in Clearwater posted all over high school campuses), “he disrespected me,” and “I’ve been gifted by God . . . .” I have also noticed that the word “parameter” is now used to mean guidelines or characteristic instead of the meaning I was taught in math and statistics classes!

  8. #8 Emily Boone
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I wish I would of found that website earlier. English is losing some really unique words!

  9. #9 Amy Fernandez
    on Apr 18th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Hmmm, I’m healthy, apples are healthful, but now, it seems apples are healthy, too. And now, corn is fresh picked instead of being freshly picked? Bugs me and makes me feel nauseous! Well, I’m nauseating if I mention it. ;^D

  10. #10 Abee McGuire
    on Apr 19th, 2012 at 1:23 am

    Read your post on Zite about Save the Words site, appears to now be defunct 🙁 last mention discovered online (an article) from 1/10 with screenshot similar to yours. Even in summer 2009, one individual had commented on her inability to connect with savethewords.org on web. Did you actually connect with them or hear of them on another site? Sincerely, Abee McGuire

    Rob adds: Abee, I had the same trouble, but if you click on the link in my post – http://savethewords.org/site.swf – it should get you there. For whatever reason if you try savethewords.org only, it just sits there and never opens. Many such sites pop you over to whatever is their home page, but that doesn’t happen there. That site uses Flash, so could that be the problem with Zite? Does Zite not work with Flash?

  11. #11 John P. Callan
    on Apr 21st, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Permit me to nominate “artful” as a word perverted by current use, now misused as an adjective meaning “evidencing high artistic skill” instead of cunning or crafty. Merriam-Webster has already listed the new meaning as the #1 definition. This word is one of the victims in a group of words that, to the uninformed, ought to mean what they sound like; some examples are restive, obviate, redoubtable.

    Modern usage: The children created an artful finger painting; A refreshing, restive nap; Highlight the text to obviate its key words; Now that more damning facts are known, the original proposal becomes even more redoubtable.

    These are all words I heard telecast on the several local television news programs in Portland, Oregon, by presumable college educated news readers (a.k.a anchors).

  12. #12 Vikki
    on Apr 25th, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I just have to add one more. It’s not actually a misuse of a word, but an expression, “I could care less.” I know what they mean, but they’re actually saying just the opposite of what they mean. It should be “I couldn’t care less”. By saying it the first way, you’re actually saying that you do care and there is lots of room to care less about it.