Monday, 10 July 2017

Something to get your mouth round - Karen Bush


 
You can call us anything you like except late for dinner ...
We all know how marvellous words are, the bricks and mortar without which books wouldn’t exist – but pause for a moment and think just how marvellous …

There is a word for absolutely everything – take aglets for example. An aglet is the little metal bit – or more usually these days plastic bit – on the end of a lace. It stops the lace end from fraying and makes it easier to poke it through eyelets or lugs. Aglets have been around for ages, at least since Roman times, but it is only more recently (around 1400) that they were given a name: derived from the French aguillette, a little needle. I have no idea what they were called before that: ‘That fiddly little bit on the end of a lace’ quite possibly – which given the increasing importance of laces in this period as a way of stopping your clothes from falling off, makes inventing the so-much easier and more precise word aglet a sensible as well as long overdue thing to do.  

And then there is the philtrum: that bit of your face just below your nose and above your top lip. That one is of Greek origin, and came into use I am informed, around 1600. Like aglets, it makes you wonder how on earth folk coped before someone finally said ‘Let’s give it a name so we don’t have to keep pointing at it or drawing diagrams’.

There are even words to describe non-existent things: slithy toves and triffids to name just two – while the majority of word-originators are anonymous, you will of course be familiar with the creators of these two, Lewis Carroll and John Wyndham. I’m not normally a fan of the description ‘wordsmith’ which is so often used in a pretentious fashion, but it does feel totally appropriate for all those who forge new words.

And there are so many sublime words to rejoice in; currently an estimated three quarters of a million in the English language from which to cherry pick your favourites – and when you have finished savouring those, there are around 7000 other languages worldwide to delight in!
"Help yourself to as much roast turkey as you want" 
are definitely the best words, and should be used more often ...

4 comments:

julia jones said...

Maybe the words were there, different in different localities but spread of printing in early modern period helped fix them. A constant fascination, thank you

Penny Dolan said...

Just had a look at men's fashion's for 1600 and every single portrait has a beard and a neat - or proudly significant - moustache, so maybe the use of the "philtrum" word grew because of precision shaving? And the interest in classical statuary rather than religious art?

Pondering. . .

Reb MacRath said...

What a lovely tribute to the power and glory of words.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks, Karen. I love new words and now eagerly await the opportunity to drop philtrum into a conversation.