Monday, August 11, 2014

Geek Culture Preserving the English Lexicon

Imperium, shire, talisman, steward, wraith, tunic, codex, automaton, chalice.

You might not know these words at first glance, but some probably come off familiar to the average native English speaker. They're unusual words, no doubt but they all share a common thread alongside their rarity.


Languages pick up and toss out words much faster than most people would believe. Think of the last time you heard cooper, aghast, or burgeon in anything modern. Most often it's jargon and the outdated that meets the lexical chopping block first.
So as our society becomes less superstitious words like wraith, lych, and necromancy start to go the same way as cooper, flecher, yeoman, scrivener and dozens of other jobs long-gone. How often do the resurrected dead or an arrow-maker come into conversation? As it would seem, magic trumps the mundane, because our more fantastical words have been holding steadfast, while others get evicted from the OED and Webster's. As things like cloven, bulwark, vassal, and wroth depart from conversation the next centuries, our more nerdy words seem more likely to stick around.

Fantasy and SF have always had a devout, and until recently esoteric following, but the last two decades have shown massive spill over into mainstream media. Zombie is an every day word now. Shire and wraith were popularize in the USA by Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and recycled in modern fantasy since.
I encourage anyone interested to use Google's word tracker. Here's zombie.

As TV and movies continue the trend of becoming more and more fantastical, authors and screenwriters are more likely to grab more lexical nuggets from the brink. And something else to consider is their growing currency in more popular media. With TV shows like Hemlock Grove, Supernatural, Game of Thrones, Grimm, and two dozen other vampire/werewolf things, strange words like lychathropy and golem avoid oblivion.

In a few centuries years our grandchildren may not know what a 'sallow and craven dilettante' is, but I'll hazard a guess that they could probably recognize a wraith, vampire, werewolf, and zombie.

No comments:

Post a Comment