This week, I have been wondering why so many of us have shunned so many fantastic words and phrases that were once woven into our daily use of English. In asking myself this, I realized that I too have dropped certain words. . .
When I was young, I once stumbled whilst trying to pronounce the word sympathetic. After that initial stumble, I lost my nerve with it. I became stressed every time I thought I was going to have to have a crack at it. I would rehearse it endlessly in my head. I would wait with dread for the next time that it was relevant in a sentence. It seemed like it was constantly needed. I’d try to dodge sympathetic. I’d wildly think of alternatives; sometimes for hours, often whilst trying to drop off to sleep. This obviously didn’t aid restful sleep. Needless to say, I never became comfortable with sympathetic, mainly because I had focused on it too greatly. If anyone had told me that one-day I would be openly discussing my fear of this perfectly ordinary word, I would have buckled at the knees. Rather like an arachnophobe having to hold a bird-eating spider – I have now faced my fears.
This irrational fear of sympathetic has shown me a couple of things – firstly it has brought to light some of my other ‘risky’ words. It transpires that I can’t correctly pronounce orange, or ugly, or dwarf. So ugly dwarf oranges would most probably push me over the edge – especially if they were then found to be sympathetic. Secondly, the fear of sympathetic and its mischievous friends made me consider the roles that we assign our words. And after due consideration, I conclude that some words are overworked, whilst others are sitting about twiddling their figurative thumbs.
My inspiration here is my aunt Amina, who is the real-life model for the eccentric aunt in Carnaby Street’s ‘Around The World in Eighty Years.’
Since my earliest childhood, I remember my Aunt Amina referring to Christmas as Bandicoot. Her usage stemmed from my grandfather’s intense dislike of hearing Christmas discussed for weeks ahead of the festivities. In order to lessen his disapproval, Amina and her younger brothers (my father and my uncle) simply swapped one word for another. She has never told me whether their father went on to tire of hearing the word bandicoot. Irrespective of whether he did or not, by employing bandicoot ‘wrongly’ they merely swapped one sound for another; and then agreed its new meaning amongst themselves. Perhaps it’s time we thought about switching some of our worn out word regulars with a few well-rested words from the endangered list?
Such an elegant lead into this week’s prizes . . . which, as previously promised fete both true eccentricity and logophilia (don’t worry, it’s neither illegal nor unpleasant).
Carnaby’s Off-Kilter Prize goes to the electricity supplier in Virginia, US who used a chopper to free a seagull that had become caught in one of their power lines.
While The Sizzling Squib for Endangered Words goes to Stephen Fry for his sensational use of brokenated. https://twitter.com/stephenfry/status/18610726688