Rachael on the go

Quick writing tips and ideas, but some musings too

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New world, lost words

Where the heck did we leave all those words that our grandparents used to know?

This blog is full of encouragement for taking a new (less structured) approach to writing. I advocate language that acknowledges migration, technology, community and change, so long as it upholds the golden goose: good communication.

But what is the fallout from stepping into a ‘new world’ of English? I guess vocabulary would be the biggest loser. Yes, we are inventing new words all the time (and at an increasingly faster rate). But more words are disappearing from use, without us even noticing.

These words haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth: we still have them in the dictionary. But fewer people can spell them, pronounce them, define them or use them in a sentence.

When was the last time that you dropped ‘piscivorous’, ‘dipsomaniacal’ or ‘uxorious’ into a conversation? I admit, I had to look up two of these words.

But we are not only discarding our traditional vocab. We are tampering with it too.

We are happy to use words that do not have the exact meaning we intend, because we don’t know we’re wrong. We usually make this error with words that sound vaguely alike, or are somewhat connected to the same topic.

Below are some words that I’ve seen used in the wrong sense (the left words in the pairs). Based on the context, I’ve guessed what the writer really means (the words on the right). Do you know the proper meaning of each word in these pairs?

misanthrope, misogynist

perspicacious, perspicuous

specious, spurious

verbose, voluble

loquacious, garrulous

naysayer, iconoclast

taciturn, laconic

circumspect, retrospect

Unless you have a solid (and quite formal) English vocabulary, this test is tricky. You may be confident about some of the words, but unsure about others. I’ve popped all the definitions below, to help you.

But, first, think about the length and breadth of your vocabulary. You’re definitely taking on dinky new words (probably short and tech based). Are they taking up mental space that used to store words of more than one or two syllables? And does it matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The definitions

misanthrope (someone who hates or mistrusts humanity), misogynist (someone who hates or mistrusts women)

perspicacious (able to easily understand, of good insight), perspicuous (clearly expressed, easily understood)

specious (seemingly plausible but actually wrong), spurious (false or fake)

verbose (using more words than needed), voluble (talking fluently and readily)

loquacious (talkative), garrulous (excessively talkative, particularly about trivial matters)

naysayer (a person is expresses themselves pessimistically or negatively), iconoclast (a person who attacks beliefs, institutions, traditions etc. for being wrong or superstitious)

taciturn (reserved in speech, uncommunicative), laconic (in the style of using few words, spare in expression)

circumspect (wary, unwilling to take a risk), retrospect (in light of the past)