Loving the words you were born with

I am a wordy nerd. I am very proud of being a wordy nerd and I love everything about words. You have probably realised this already.

From their etymology to their pronunciation, from the feel of words on the tongue (try flibbertigibbet for size) to their idiosyncrasies, the English language fascinates me endlessly. It’s like an infinitely weird puzzle. There are words I love and there are words I hate. I hate the word ‘myriad’ for instance, because there’s no definite answer any more about whether it’s used like ‘many’ – e.g. ‘myriad Christmas presents’ or whether it’s used like ‘lot’, like ‘a myriad of’. Is it noun or adjective? It’s a lovely word – check out that lovely myr for instance, which gives us only a handful of words in English, from myrmidon to myriad and myrmecology (the study of ants) and myrmecophilia (the love of ants) as well as the festive myrrh (a great Scrabble word) and myrtle. But it was a noun, like ‘lot’, for a lot of years. And then it was an adjective, like many, for many years. It was at first, literally the number 10,000 from Greek. But I still don’t like it.

Anyway, the Oxford English Dictionary site has now started giving you words from your birth year (or any other year, for that matter) and I like to think that the words birthed in 1972 capture a little something of the era into which I was born. It was the year of Watergate, so I feel I share a little something with the whole -gate suffix that is now added hither and thither to scandals across the globe. 1972 also gave us guilt trips and blaxploitation, gut-wrenching, high-tech, pre-loved, Pythonesque and retro. Dorothy entered the OED as a euphemism, as did the delightfully camp ‘friends of Dorothy’. If you find it all a little cringe-inducing, or it gives you a guilt trip, then those words are from 1972 too.

My sister, a 1977 baby, came into being with cringeworthy, looky-loo and nip and tuck, as well at the at sign and text messages. My brother, in 1979, with codependency, deal breaking, freebasing and fluffers.

I must say that I could spend hours looking through all these words and those on wordorigins.org – obviously born to be an English teacher. This year’s entries to the Online Dictionaries (which are a little less demanding than the big boy hardback versions in print) have been well-documented, since they involved twerking and selfie. I do think it’s a great way to get a fix on a year, on the zeitgeist, by looking at the words that made it into print.

I wonder what 2014 will bring?

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3 thoughts on “Loving the words you were born with

  1. I suppose I also qualify as a wordy nerd. I don’t think I would have managed as a translator/interpreter for most of my life if I had not been one. I looked up some of the words for my year of birth. Except for gray area, I did not think most of these words were that old (64 year old)
    drive-through, genetic engineering, gray area, home school, make-out, streetwise
    I was very interested by the article on Canadian words. It is fascinating to realize that some words which are used by everyone around you are mostly unknown in other English speaking areas.
    Thank you for pointing out this site.

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