Words, words, words

August 18, 2000

"Words are like money; there is nothing so useless, unless when in actual use."–Samuel Butler

The past few weeks some people have noticed that I’ve thrown some fancy words into my commentaries. Examples include "metriculate", "malodorous", "sublimate", and "testes". Last week, I meant to use the word "bilious", but forgot to. (And since I’m talking about words I wanted to use but didn’t, I’ll throw in "disingenuous" and "miscreant".)

Some of you who are lexicologically impaired contacted me to ask about "abattoir" which, yes, does mean slaughterhouse. Surprisingly no one contacted me about "tragophilic", which is a neologism that means "goat loving". Why am I doing this? It’s not for anyone’s edification–I’m pretty sure that most people who read this don’t need any supplementary tutelage, and the ones who do probably know of better sources than me. It’s actually because of a terrifying article I read about the declining number of English words in common usage.

Never mind that the lexicon of English is still larger than that of most other languages. In addition to global warming, toxic pollution in the oceans, the eastward spread of the hanta virus, the northward spread of malaria, and declining sea cucumber population in the Galapagos archipelago, the shrinking English language was one more thing to keep me from my nocturnal repose and disrupt my circadian rhythms. I had visions of George Orwell’s utopia in which people walk around quacking like ducks. Well, as long as we’re human beings we’ll need equivalents of "yes" and "no", which, in the future, will be replaced by "totally" and "whatever". Wait a minute. That’s not a utopia. That’s a Tuesday night sitcom.

I have seen the future, and we’ll all be attractive, wealthy, never have to work, and live in huge apartments. Am I looking forward to the future? Totally!

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


It may surprise you that the word "nice" does not have a nice background. In fact it comes from the Latin word nescius, which means ignorant. In addition to foolish and stupid, the word nice, in the English spoken in the Middle Ages, also meant wanton. By the 15th century it meant "coy." A hundred years later it also meant "dainty." And only in the 18th century does it finally mean agreeable.

Have a nice day, I think.

(Source: THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH ETYMOLOGY)


I thought you might all get a kick out of these translations…now, these are a series of famous quotes and their authors that were translated by computer from English into different languages and then back into English…enjoy!

  1. "We do not have fun."–Victory Reigns

  2. "Speak smoothly and you take a great small stick."–Theodore Roosevelt

  3. "It reads my edges. NO NEW CONTROLS!"–Wanderer shrubs George Herbert

  4. "Doctor Livingstone, I am conceited?"–Henry Mr. Stanley

  5. "I cannot not obtain satisfaction."–The Rocks of the Rolling

  6. "Not there is commerce like the exposure commerce"–Irving Berlin

  7. "One does not worry: he is happy"–McFerrin Police officer

  8. "Flutter, flutter, small beater!/How I ask myself in which you are!"– Lewis Carroll

  9. "The wood is beautiful, dark and in depth./ But I have the promises to conserve…"–Freezing of Robert

  10. "The one that we called raised/ By any other name would smell like candy."–Guillermo Snakespeare

  11. "It was better of the periods, it was defective of the periods."– Charles of thickening

  12. "He does not count its hens before they are shocked."–Aesop

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