Sunday, December 19, 2010

Words and knives

If I said to you the phrase, Spyderco salt, would it mean a thing? Well, you might be one of those clever people who know everything, or you might be someone who resides in the United States (the country my youngest child, my younger son, is travelling to at this very minute - literally) and therefore you might be familiar with Spyderco.

Spyderco are a company that specialises in knives, in a big way. Every possible kind of knife you can imagine needing is available through them. Their 'salt' range relates to knives used in the fishing industry, as far as I can tell, (you can see an example on the right).

But what I found interesting on their site was their knowledge page, where they not only have a glossary of terms, a list of the types of handles, the blade coatings, the clips and much more, they have a section called 'blade shapes.' Like the jargon of any specialised group the words in this section are fascinating in themselves: a drop point blade, a hawkbill, the Wharncliffe blade and the swedge. Here's the definition of the last on that list: Also called a false edge, it is a ground edge on the back of the blade's spine, that is chamfered, or non-sharpened. It removes weight from the blade and can change the blade's balance and penetration performance and appearance.

When you work in a particular field, the jargon becomes second nature - as a musician of many moons, I speak a lingo that's extremely familiar to me, and to a number of other people I'm associated with. However, to those outside the circle, much of this language has no meaning, because the words just don't have a connection with their lives. (Consequently, whenever a musical question comes up on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I always find it easy - not so the contestant necessarily.)

One of my friends at church this morning came out with an entirely unfamiliar word in passing conversation - he delighted in it, but I can't remember it at the moment at all (!) However, during the week I came across two other unfamiliar words which I have remembered: 'eclogue' and 'intinction.' I'm not sure how I'll drag them into everyday conversation (although they did make an appearance on Facebook) but I'm doing my best to remind myself of their existence by dropping them into places such as this blog.

English is a fascinating language, and continues to grow by leaps and bounds as we create more and more of our words based on older ones or by finding new ways of expressing something, or by pinching words from other languages and making them our own (as we're doing increasingly with Maori words).

Robert McCrum, writing in the Guardian recently, reminded us that about 350 million people worldwide speak English as a mother tongue. According to the British Council, the number learning English will hit 2 billion in the next 10-15 years. That's a third of mankind. But what is perhaps more interesting still is that the Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words. A further half million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued. By contrast, German scores a vocabulary of 185,000 words, and French fewer than 100,000, including such Franglais as le snacque barre and le hit parade.

500,000 words, without counting all the technical and scientific jargon. I'd have needed to have learnt more than twenty words a day for every day of my life to catch up with all those, let alone all the words that aren't included in the dictionary. Eclogue, swedge and intinction will have to do for the present.
Post a Comment