Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A long-forgotten letter

In my pieces for Column 8, a column I wrote weekly for about five years back in the nineties, I more than once played round with words and how the English language seemed to have lost a lot of useful ones. 

I've been typing up an old journal from 1996 over the last months, and came across the following entry. I said at the time it was a piece after my own heart. It was originally a letter to the Editor in the New Zealand Listener, published on the 27th January, 1996. The writer was John Ruck. Kim Hill was a very popular broadcaster at the time, and more than 25 years later her gravelly voice can still be heard on Saturday mornings. 

‘Kim Hill’s use on National Radio of the word ert to describe breast implants that should have been inert, but weren’t, makes me wonder how many other potentially useful words lie rusting on our lexicographical scrapheap.

Couth and gruntled have already emerged from the shadows, of course. But what else might we find with a bit of judicious backforming?

Well, there’s delible. It means ‘easily erased,’ as in ‘use something delible, like a 6B pencil,’ or ‘the Democrats have made a delible impression on our national politics.’

Trepid might slide timidly into our language. Truder would be a welcome guest. And ique (pronounced eeek) must eventually be found everywhere.

Note that, to be useful, such decapites [he gives the two letter es an acute accent] must be shorter than the words or phrases they replace; in these hectic times, a syllable saved is a syllable gained.

So poverish just too long to enrich our vocabs. But pologist (for example) is much snappier than ‘public relations consultant’ (he of the hevelled appearance and peccable morality.)

Hey, how about dertaker for the fellow who has to dig ‘em up again? Is becile too facile for a member of Mensa?

Interested readers who find other treasures may care to forward them to Kim Hill for possible transmission. Terested readers, on the other hand, might just as well turn the page.’

I hope the Listener and Mr Ruck will both forgive me for copying this here, but it seems to good to be lost in the archives of a magazine. 

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