Save the Words

No Telling

Finally, a cause I can get behind. Somebody hand me a Sharpie and some poster board because I feel like wearing a peasant blouse and having a sit-in. Where did I pack those Gloria Steinem aviators?

Wayne State University has it’s academic fist in the air to save our language. No, no, no, this isn’t about non-native speakers or official languages or anything whatever to do with immigration, so don’t turn away. This is about saving the wispy, many-layered, pungent, specific bibelots of our language that are disappearing faster than we can tweet.

Their site is called Word Warriors, and they’re saving the language one word at a time:

“In early 2009 Wayne State University launched this Web site to retrieve some of the English language’s most expressive words from the dank closet of neglect, in hopes of boosting their chances of a return to conversation and narrative. Some of these words once were part of the common speech (it was hard to be a writer in the late 19th century, for instance, without “indefatigable”); others have capered in and out of the language like harlequins, dazzling and then just as suddenly departing; others — the wonderful “numinous,” for one — may never have been heard every day or even every year. Some, like “galoshes,” just went into hiding for no apparent reason.

But no matter why especially marvelous words have disappeared from everyday use, we believe the following selection that we and visitors to this site have made still deserves to be exercised freely in prose, poetry, song and story. Otherwise, we simply aren’t painting our speech with a full palette.”

The the Word Warriors’ 2010 List of “sadly underused or overlooked but eminently useful words that should be brought back to enrich our language” includes delights as bamboozle, mendacity, festoon, and scuttle. My brothers and sisters, there’s not a Southern writer living who could write a check without using at least two of these. These words falling into disuse is a sad first step leading inevitably to everyone grunting and pointing in 140 characters or less.

Here are a few more on the endangered list: conniption, dastardly, fetching, peccadillo, skedaddle, and zaftig. Can you imagine losing these words?

Luckily, you can participate by suggesting words that need rescue. Nominate a word on the Word Warriors site, then go out into the world and give these beauties a workout. Wave them like Old Glory before all the Southern lawyers die and take these with them to the hereafter.

We shall overcome.

(Image via Artworld Salon)

19 thoughts on “Save the Words

  1. Thanks for posting this, I'm gonna get in contact with the peeps at WSU and see if anybody from MT has scheduled an interview/story yet. Cuz if they haven't, I'm totally gonna get on that, and maybe make me $140. woohoo~! thanks Monda :]

  2. I'm having a real “conniption” about all of the words that are being “scuttled” from our language — oh the “dastardly” audacity of the youth! 🙂 M

  3. The American Dialect Society has named google word of the decade. And the word of the year (from New Oxford American) is unfriend. All new words entering the lexicon seem to be tech-based.


  4. I am a nursing student, and our instructor has notified us of a change that is soon coming, it's called “plain english”. She said that the “big” words that confuse people will no longer be used. I am not sure if this change is only affecting the health care fields, but I am saddened that we have to “dumb up” the english language because people don't understand it. Whenever I came across a word I didn't know, I looked it up and made a point to use it!

  5. Thank you for bringing to light an issue near and dear to my heart. In my last post I actually hesitated before typing the word “festoon”… wondering if instead a mundane, but more commonly utilized word would better suit the reader. My favorite saying has always been “Eschew Obfuscation”. Practical application of this motto may be contributing to the loss of knowledge though. This is one cause I'll definately be supporting actively!


    “Galloping Insanity” –

  6. I recently used a word, though I can't remember what it was right now, and my 16 year old sister said “What the heck does that mean?” When I told her to look it up, she responded by saying, “Nah, I don't feel like getting my laptop out for that…” *sigh* Even a good dictionary seems to be on the endangered species list…

  7. Just saw the world 'malefactor' last night – “the malefactors of great wealth in the late 19th century…” I thought it was great.

    Funny story – I was watching 'Dreamgirls,' and at the point where the lawyer is telling Effie what Curtis has agreed on, she turns and says, 'Now can you say that in plain English?'

    Every time I see that scene she catches me off guard, because I'm thinking, really? You couldn't understand that? Sheesh.

    I'll spare you a whole rant on saving the English language and maybe write up a post on it instead. And your blog appearance changes are very nice. 🙂

  8. I recently came across 'free rice' – for each answer you get right in a vocabulary quiz, you donate 10 grains of rice towards the World food program.
    And I've been rediscovering a whole lot of 'new / old' worlds!! it's what I do now when I'm bored at work 😉

  9. These comments give me hope. Except for the one about the word of the decade (google) and the word of the year (unfriend). Both are verbs.

    I'm sending Word Warriors two verbs to revive:

    scooch and dally

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