Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Niddering Vilipend Exuviation

A post-worthy, word-related matter that appeared October 3 on Britain’s Collins English Dictionary wants to give obsolete words the boot in order to make room for new ones. Though I have a soft spot in my heart for strange words, it makes sense that casual dictionaries — that is, the word compendiums that you can actually put on your bookshelf, as opposed to the unabridged ones that now can only realistically fit in post people’s houses in CD-ROM form — should, in fact, only have the words that people would be likely to read or use. English as she is spoke, so to speak.

Not everyone agrees. Some excerpts from the article:
Collins' editors know that old words die hard — and that some people will vilipend (regard with contempt) any execution without a fair trial. So they've offered the chance of a reprieve. They have made public 24 words that face deletion because editors could find no example of their use in their database of English-language books, newspapers, broadcasts and other media. If, by February 2009, a word reappears in that database with at least six "high quality" citations, it could be spared from the semantic dustbin.

Collins warns that it will discount any artificial use of the endangered words, meaning Motion's readers and Pound's constituents must actually take them up themselves. There's certainly interest in doing so. The Times of London asked readers to vote for the word they most felt should be spared from oblivion and attracted more than 11,000 votes in a week. The word embrangle (to confuse or entangle) won with 1,434 votes, while fubsy (short and stout) came in a distant second. Roborant (tending to fortify) and nitid (bright, glistening) failed to shine; they finished last, drawing roughly 550 votes between them.

Elsewhere, fantasy-game devotees have rushed to the defense of
periapt (a charm or amulet), which they know from the popular Dungeons & Dragons game, and geologists have pointed out the utility of griseous (streaked or mixed with gray) in describing rocks and minerals.
Here’s a list of the words on the chopping block:
  • abstergent: cleansing
  • agrestic: rural
  • apodeictic: unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration
  • caducity: perishableness
  • caliginosity: dimness
  • compossible: possible in coexistence with something else
  • embrangle: to confuse
  • exuviate: to shed
  • fatidical: prophetic
  • fubsy: squat
  • griseous: somewhat grey
  • malison: a curse
  • mansuetude: gentleness
  • muliebrity: the condition of being a woman
  • niddering: cowardly
  • nitid: bright
  • olid: foul-smelling
  • oppugnant: combative
  • periapt: an amulet
  • recrement: refuse
  • roborant: tending to fortify
  • skirr: a whirring sound, as of the wings of birds in flight
  • vaticinate: prophesy
  • vilipend: to treat with contempt
Surely the speakers of British English could make room for muliebrity, right? And I can’t help but to wonder if American dictionaries publish lists of words that are up for execution. Can we vote on them? That’s our thing, right? Voting?

(via Ryan)


  1. I used griseous at school once to describe to someone what the color puce was; they were even more confused. :( It has to stay! It's the only way to describe-grayed out colors.

    And yes, periapt is used in D&D books of old. They can't get rid of it.

  2. The only one of these I'm familiar with is agrestic, as it was used as the name of a suburban sprawl development community in the Showtime show Weeds. And here I thought they'd made it up.

  3. Correction. When you wrote "via Ryan," it implied that I wrote about this first on my website, and because you liked the idea, the link, or both, decided to write about it as well.

    Instead, I emailed you, implying that you were smarter than myself and should write about the topic.

    There's a subtle but important difference. Let's not embrangle anyone.

  4. I hope I don't embrangle when I lament the caducity of the apodeictic.

    I do know I hurt spell check.