Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wordnik - does it represent birth or death?

I happened to hear part of a talkback radio show on the weekend about a web site called wordnik. It describes itself as: "An ongoing project devoted to discovering all the words and everything about them". Basically, it embraces all words, no matter how correct or invented -- so long as the word is in use somewhere, it's considered legitimate. Moreover, it's an interactive site, so you can record pronunciations, write definitions, make tags, mark as favourites etc. Rather an enjoyable procrastination site for a word-o-phile!

Much as I applaud the concept of a web site devoted to words, however, I can't help but feel a tug of resistance. Certainly this is how languages evolve, but one could argue they devolve as well (e.g. prevalence of orientated and obligated in modern use). Just how wild and free should a language be? Is it time to reject the artificial rules imposed on English way back when, and go with the flow? Or will abandoning restraint and a sense of 'correct' usage lead us back into the dark ages?


  1. But aren't we using a bastardised form of a bastardised form of a bastardised .... well you get my drift. I used to be a stickler for language rules until I started studying other languages. Then I realised that language is always changing and that is exciting. The fact that there are so many exceptions to the rule is testament to this. But were this not the case, then language would be so rigid. New words, new spelling, new meanings are a sign of the times. For this reason, I don't think language will return to the dark ages, but will continue to develop along with changes in culture and society. Surely this can only be a good thing!

  2. No, change does not necessarily have to be a good thing! I'm not saying all change is bad, though. In fact, I'm rather divided on this particular point. But I will say this: the English language rules, however arbitrary, were developed so that all English speakers had a common framework for communication. Which is, after all, the point. Take away the rules, and we go back to having 5 different ways of spelling the same word (like all the bastardised versions of first names we see). Certainly language needs to be able to evolve with modern usage and context. But I do object to words being bastardised due to ignorence. Since when is 'obligated' more efficient/worthy than 'obliged'? And 'orientated' more efficient than 'oriented'? Both obligated and orientated are words that have evolved through misuse for no good reason. In fact, obliged and oriented were exceptions to the rule that have been bastardised by people trying to making them conform!