Words infuse so much of life into every subject-ask religious preachers and philosophers.
Still we hardly bother to study the Life of Words. Words have colorful wings.
Life of words and their survival with chaste dignity of denotation and decorated or decayed connotations is an interesting study by itself with multiple controversies, claims and clear cut etymological evidences.
They are packed with interesting stories and histories of their own evolutionary growth as well as strains which also throw light on many aspects of evolution of life on the whole.
For example, some decades ago the words like ‘cyber’ ‘social media’ never existed [though now many media articles are more unsocial].
Word acceptance, usage, popularity have their own dynamics/metamorphosis which is sometimes etymologically obvious and interesting but at times mysteriously mutilated for various reasons justifiable or otherwise.
But we would be surprised to know the common connection of words like “science, conscience and shit” which David Crystal-a great Linguist says, “all had originally common etymology”.
I thought for a longtime that the Britishers were obsessed with sex, of course like everyone else, and that’s why they have named their places like Essex, Sussex and Middlesex. But later on I learnt that they refer to only Saxons occupying different directions with varying dialects.
Sometimes carries within it some affinity to its etymological root;
Sometimes it gets exalted due to the deft handling of it by great writers, philosophers, linguists and others;
Sometimes it gets struck up in a vital context;
Sometimes it also acts as the very fulcrum of certain contexts;
Sometimes it unfolds hitherto unraveled dimensions of its original meaning;
Sometimes it exquisitely spreads its wings to fly and catch the subtle nuances which bring out the various facets of its overall splendor;
Sometimes it embellishes and establishes through experiences newer meanings;
Sometimes a newer connotation gets added to the word in its journey through how it is perceived by socio- cultural acceptance and assimilation;
Sometimes it establishes its life because of its relationship to some other words or as a part of a popular idiom or phrase;
Sometimes it keeps modifying itself aesthetically to survive or supplement some specific situation;
Sometimes it unshackles its fetters and acquires several new meanings totally disconnected from its original DNA to sustain the life of something else.
Sometimes , in this process, it not only blurs its own identity as well as that of what it wanted to sustain beyond recognition but also gets totally delinked from its very root [ as in the case of the word ‘religion’];
Sometimes its plasticity is optimally used to refer to a multitude of emotions, feelings, situations, thoughts and ideas some of which could be totally contradictory;
Sometimes its elastically expands to give space in its womb to give birth to new jargon or new idioms or phrases;
Sometimes it gets married to some other words and in its proliferation of love, lives to copulate and cohabit with a stranger, quiet oblivious of its own identity in that romantic movement.
Relevant gems from David Crystal’s book WORD, WORDS, WORDS and THE STORIES OF ENGLISH.
David crystal writes, “It remains a lexicological puzzle why some words were accepted and some rejected. We do not know how to account for the linguistic ‘survival of the fittest’. Both impede and expede were introduced during the same period as well as disabuse and disadorn, but in each of these pairs the first item stayed in the language and the second did not”.
He also writes, “If English is to remain a world language, then it needs a variety as a reference standard, but as the result of process which have taken place-and which are an inevitable consequence of the nature of language-the character of building has changed. Whereas Standard English was once viewed as a cathedral or a monument, now it has to be seen more as a sky scrapper, with a specific function of facilitating intelligibility, coexisting in a city of other tall buildings which perform other functions, such as the facilitation of local identity. It is no longer the only building in the city, and certainly no longer the only building thought to be worth a visit”.
And of course some links from my blog with some references from leading linguists.
Here is link giving some interesting write up by another great but less publicized linguist and one of my favorites Vygotsky who made intense psychological study into words and their relation to human life.
Sometimes we are tricked into by words due to our lack of understanding of local /regional connotations.
For example some weeks ago, I was going to a place in Tamil Nadu and the driver asked for the exact location of a place from three different people and all of them said, in good Indian English, ‘ Sir drive straight for one kilometer then you will come across a ‘DUMMY SIGNAL’ and there you take the right turn and proceed’.
After reaching the spot I understood ‘DUMMY SIGNAL’ is a signal which mostly does not work properly and even when it does no one bothers to take note of it.
Now tell me which dictionary can help me understand the actual meaning of ‘DUMMY SIGNAL’ though both are proper English words and not any Anglicized version of a local language