Worthy Words


What is your favourite word? I have to admit to being rather partial to “serendipity”, and another one I favour is “mellifluous”. “Recalcitrant” is satisfyingly sharp and sculpted, while “erudite”, “eloquence” and “nuance” roll off the tongue pleasingly. “Gumption” is another good one, then there’s “insouciance” and, as we’re in that area of the alphabet, how about “indefatigable”? For me it’s not just the definition of the word that attracts me to it, but the sound it makes – the musical and rhythmic quality it possesses.

The English language is a luxuriant lexicon in which we can freely indulge and what riches there are! It is a capacious casket glittering with verbal treasures which speak of adventures from across the ages. For explorers it offers a linguistic map of our heritage, landscape and identity. Words might appear a seemingly harmless collection of letters, but they wield such power. They are tools and, at times, weapons, which have influenced world events and have had far-reaching consequences - perhaps never more immediately felt than in our digital age. They also have the capacity to create joy, sorrow, laughter, solace and to educate, inspire and enchant.

What is so captivating about our language is that fact that it is constantly evolving. New words are added, while archaic words disappear and some can change their meaning completely. Prime examples of this are "awful", originally meaning "inspiring wonder", and "nice" which once meant "foolish". Evergreen's autumn issue, which is published on 6th September (click here to order a subscription), includes an article that looks at how the English language has been shaped over the centuries by some of our greatest writers including William Shakespeare, John Milton and Ben Jonson.

Tracking the changing language is something that the wordsmiths at Oxford Dictionaries monitor closely and every 12 months they select, from an extensive shortlist, the Word of the Year. This doesn't necessarily have to be a new creation, but it has to be a word that has become especially prominent during the last year and reflects the prevailing mood. In 2016 the title went to the adjective "post-truth", which is defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Now, I can see that "post-truth" has its place, but I can't say I've rushed to use it since its linguistic triumph. However, it is interesting to note its rise to victory from its first appearance in print in 1992. This sparked my curiosity to look back at some of the previous title holders, which included the following:

2007   carbon footprint
2008   credit crunch
2009   Simples (Think about that advert!)
2010   big society
2011   squeezed middle
2012   omnishambles
2013   selfie
2014   vape
2015     (Face with tears of joy emoji)

I am totally mystified as to why the 2015 winner even merited consideration; it's not even a word for heaven's sake! Is this what our glorious language is coming to? But don't get me started on that! My favourite word on the above list is most definitely "omnishambles", meaning "a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged". This was first uttered in the brilliant BBC political satire "The Thick of It" created by Armando Iannucci.

Perusing past winners makes me wonder which adjective, noun, verb or (perish the thought!) emoji, will have the accolade bestowed upon it this year. As usual I'd love to hear your thoughts and nominations for any likely contenders by posting a comment below.

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