English is a relatively young language, as languages go; like a parasitic sponge it absorbs words and meanings from other languages, soaks them in until it’s bursting to explode, and then – well perhaps I should use a more romantic notion for such a popular, diverse and divisive tongue: English is a survivor. Attempts at destroying it have survived the Danish Vikings, the French, and the Germans (and thus gives me high hopes that it will survive the age of the Cell Phone). And with each encounter it came out stronger, more versatile and flexible. Then the Pilgrims crated it off in their minds and hearts to the New World, locked as it were in a time capsule; British English absorbed a few bad habits from the French before they thought better of it and distanced themselves during the French Revolution, but in the meantime contentious pronunciation differences had crept in that persist to this day, e.g.: American pronunciation of schedule (/skedju(e)l/) is from the original Greek pronunciation which was used in Britain for onk-years, until they took on the fancier French-ified pronunciation of /shedju(e)l/. But I digress.
Words have been lost along the way: Some words are known to us in one form, but not the other, while other words have been lost altogether due to a more convenient absorption or form arising. You know of disgruntled (adj.), but what about gruntle (v.) or disgruntle (v.)? And dis– in this particular case is not used to form the antonym of gruntle, but meaning very gruntled. And I don’t know about you, but conject as a verb makes more sense than conjecture to me. And shall we vote to bring back oliphant, as JRR Tolkien saved it from extinction through his use of it in Lord of the Rings? What about pash (n.), contex (v.), or spelunk (n.)? We know of fiddle-faddle, but what about plain ol’ “faddle” (to trifle)? Some, admittedly, are not missed; toforan is better served with heretofore, in my humble opinion (IMHO). Needsways is a Scottish word, obsolete in England and America perhaps, but alive and well north of the Borders. There are some deliciously eccentric words that deserve surviving, such as loblolly, bric-a-brac, sulter, pill (v., to plunder, pillage – ought to come in handy, that), quib, bugbear (though I think children would rather see that one die out), uptake (as a verb), wist (intent), or sluggy. If Sir Walter Scott can save words such as doff and don from extinction, so can we.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the word archaism, it means “retention of what is old and obsolete.” So twinge your language to include these mobile words and their meanings, and revelate your intelligence!
To find out what any of the above words mean and where they come from, check out one of my favourite go-to websites: The Online Etymology Dictionary.
[Comic from xkcd, used under a Creative Commons license.]