Monday 28 June 2010

On needed words

A guest appearance on BBC Radio 4's 'Saturday Live' last week has initiated a flurry of correspondence, and the only place to focus it seems to be this blog. Once again it is the ludic propensity of language that has grabbed the popular imagination - in the same way that the 'foreign catch-phrases' theme (see my last post) has done.

As always, it is a passing remark that sparks the interest. The presenter asked me whether there were lost words in the language that ought to be resuscitated. That brought to mind the examples I encountered when I was editing an edition of Dr Johnson's Dictionary a few years ago, so I mentioned one: fopdoodle, meaning a foolish dandy, or prig. Well, everyone thought it was a wonderful word - even the continuity announcer at the end of the programme, who described the producer as a fopdoodle.

And one thing leads to another. Inevitably, it was 'words that the English language needs that we don't currently have'. This is a very familiar one, for me. When I was doing English Now back in the 80s this proved to be the most popular competition of all. There was no shortage of suggestions then - I put a selection into my Language Play - and it seems there is no shortage today. Of all the suggestions in those days, the one I thought the language most needed was the word which describes my state of mind when waiting for my luggage to appear on the airport carousel. Everyone else's turns up straight away. So, one is - 'bagonizing', to my mind.

Do such words ever get into the dictionary? Some such spontaneous creations have - such as blurb, invented during a dinner party. And bagonize has 600 entries in Google now! So, who knows?

Anyway, the point of this post is to offer a location for anyone whose urge to create a new word in a language (not just English) is uncontrollable. Already my email inbox has a flood. Here's one, to illustrate. Adrian writes to say 'When I wake up in the morning my hair sometimes points upwards in a curled peak as in the cartoons of a boy detective. I have realised I suffer from tintinnitis'.