The English language is a funny thing. Allegedly it’s one of the most difficult to learn due to its inability to follow its own rules. Like other languages, English has grown and evolved since its conception, constantly losing and gaining words. Colloquialisms overthrow general terms until the latter become obsolete. This leads to words going extinct so that when you come across them, you’re dumbstruck. This happened to me today as I read through James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. It was only published in the 1980s, and yet, despite considering myself above-averagely literate (my favourite word is “plethora.” do normal people even have favourite words?), I stopped several times to define words. Most of the time, context clues make it easy to figure out the connotation, if not the entire denotation of a word. This will get you through that sentence, that paragraph, probably even that book, but will not get you any farther than that. As a writer, I’ve found that defining these words comes in handy later, when it just so happens that I know the perfect word for a piece.
When it comes to defining these words, I could hypothetically turn to Google. However, I find that it kind of breaks the mood to pull out my laptop when I’m halfway through a page. That’s where my secret weapon comes in!
About a year ago, my mom gave me a copy of The New Webster’s Deluxe Desk Reference Library.
My copy of this Dictionary-Thesaurus-Grammar Guide- Spelling Dictionary-Fingertip Factfinder was published in 1986; it won’t define “twerk” for me, but it will tell me what McPherson means when he refers to “Taney’s opinion as a new species of proslavery sophistry” (McPherson, 288) [sophistry- specious reasoning or argumentation; specious- apparently good or right but without merit]. It’s perfect for academic, classic, or just plain antiquated pieces (which just so happen to be my favorite types)!
The ultimate question here, though, is this: “Why does language change so drastically that these words need to be looked up?”
Well, I don’t have an answer to that. I’m no linguistics expert, but I find the concept fascinating.