Posts Tagged ‘Words’

Cleansing the “the”

April 20, 2019

The alphabet gives us the possibility to create a limitless number of words.

In any alphabet where the length of a word is not restricted, there are an infinite variety of ways of creating combinations of letters to be words. In practice most languages have working vocabularies of a few hundred thousands and even if all possible variations and forms, past and present, are counted, the vocabulary may be around one million words. The Oxford English Dictionary has around 177,000 words as being in current usage and another 50,000 as obsolete. Similarly German has around 150,000 words as being in current use and Swedish has around 125,000. However current usage is not the whole story. Current usage is only a part of the total number of words available in a language where the total number depends on the age of the language. It is said that Japanese has around 100,000 active words in a total vocabulary of around 500,000. The OED estimates the total number of words in English to be around 750,000. Other estimates put the total English vocabulary at just over one million words.

So there is no need to include the definite article to create a word. The the atre is so unnecessary. Stripping away the initial “the” is required, if nothing else, on the grounds of language parsimony. Words beginning with “therm” are excused as are those where the remnant is an existing word. Excluding derivatives, the list of commonly used words which could happily lose their “the”s is not so long. Pronouncing “ft” might be a challenge.

Removing the indefinite article would not work especially as an initial “a” is so often used to create the opposite of a word or a negation.



“A good continuation” for the “in-between days” as Swedish adopts 37 new words

December 28, 2015

In Sweden the days after Christmas Day and up to the New Year are known as the “in-between days” (mellandagarna) and the normal greeting during this time is “a good continuation” (god fortsättning). The “in-between days” is also the period when the The Language Council of Sweden (Språkrådet) produces an official list of “new words ” that have entered the Swedish language during the previous year.

The Language Council of Sweden does not – fortunately – waste its time too much on futile exercises to defend against change (like the French do) but generally acts as an observer of change that has occurred. (I take the view that “defence of a language” and trying to prevent change is a meaningless exercise. The only language that does not change is a dead language and a living language is defined by current usage. Equally there is no such thing as “correct” spelling or grammar – there is only “accepted” usage).

Thirty seven new words are now acknowledged officially as having entered the language during 2015. However, the Language Council is also terminally afflicted by a deep-seated political correctness, especially about gender “equality” (this is Sweden after all). They sometimes try to be exceedingly good and try intentionally to introduce “gender-neutral” words – usually with little success. It is no different this time and this shows up in 3 of the words “officially” recognised (14, 16 and 35).

  1. avinvestera – to divest or disinvest (alternative divestera)
  2. cosplaymasquerade with participants dressed up as fictional characters from TV, films, comics or games (often Japanese)
  3. delningsekonomi – shared economy used for pooled activities where goods and services are shared (e.g. carpools, Airbnb etc.)
  4. douche – a douchebag
  5. dumpstra – to recover and reuse what others have dumped (from dumpster dive)
  6. EU-migrant – An EU citizen in another EU country for the better welfare and benefits (a euphemism often for Roma people)
  7. faktaresistens – resisting facts (and preferring conspiracy theories for example)
  8. funkis- – used as an adjective or a prefix and to do with people having functional disabilities
  9. geoblockering – geographic blocking of internet content
  10. groupie – a group selfie
  11. haffa – to hit on
  12. halmdocka – a strawman argument or position
  13. klickokrati – a society dominated by internet views(likes) from clickocracy
  14. klittra – verb for female masturbation (hardly used but a politically correct word introduced after a competition)
  15. kulturell appropriering – cultural appropriation
  16. mansplaining – (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing (a politically correct word)
  17. naturvin – ecologic wine (usually not very good)
  18. nyhetsundvikare – a news avoider
  19. obror – ”unbrotherly”, unfriendly
  20. plattfilm – a flat film with no 3-D or VR effects
  21. rattsurfa – to surf while at the wheel (while driving)
  22. robotjournalistik  – news journalism with computer generated articles
  23. självradikalisering – self radicalisation
  24. skuldkvotstak – income based borrowing limit
  25. ståpaddling – stand-up paddling
  26. svajpa – to swipe
  27. svischa – to Swish (use an App for transfer of funds)
  28. talepunkt – talking point
  29. terrorresa – a journey for the purpose of participating in ”terror” activities
  30. transitflykting – a refugee in transit
  31. triggervarning – advance warning that something unpleasant is to be published
  32. trollfabrik – troll factory
  33. vejpa – to ”vape”, smoke an e-cigarette
  34. vithetsnorm – a standard where ”white-skin” is the norm
  35. värdgraviditet – politically correct alternative to surrogate motherhood
  36. youtuber – a ”professional” video uploader
  37. ögonkramp – eye pain due to excessive looking at a mobile screen

Many of the “new words” recorded every year by the Language Council do not stand the test of time.

Actual usage always wins.

The first word(s) ever spoken

January 11, 2014

A recent conversation at a bar where – in the noise – I was served a whiskey instead of a beer led to a discussion of how sounds and/or gestures became words. Before the bar closed we came to the following conclusions:

  1. A sound becomes a  word only when at least two people use (both make and hear) the same sound for the same meaning.
  2. Probably many such words were “invented” by pairs of people but these never developed any further – either by spreading to others or becoming incorporated with other words to develop into language.
  3. Hand gestures are a consequence – indirectly – of human bipedalism.
  4. First came sounds. Then came sounds/gestures which became gestures/words.Words probably developed from sounds and hand gestures being used together with the words later coming to dominate.
  5. Fundamental hand gestures are almost universally understood today and probably have had similar meanings in antiquity and with the earliest humans.
  6. Fundamental gestures do not need sound for their basic meaning but cannot convey nuances and detail in themselves. Moreover the gestures were invisible in the dark or when out of sight but still within earshot.
  7. The sounds associated with these gestures were most likely among the earliest group of words. But we felt they must have been preceded by a sound – later a word – meaning “danger”. There may well have been a number of sounds describing different kinds of danger.
  8. These fundamental meanings that are readily communicated by gesture alone include: Here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

So our considered opinion was that the earliest ever word was danger closely followed by here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

But if man had not come down from the trees and freed his hands , sounds would not have become words and words would not have become language.

In Vino Veritas!

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