I work in a genuinely creative environment. Our quality standards demand it and ultimately it’s the core of the job. It’s all about content and how we use it to tell a story. New concepts are floated daily and anyone and everyone can be asked for input.
This can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re not a natural idea hamster (what’s an idea hamster? It’s like an idea gerbil, only smaller), or used to this sort of creative storytelling.
The A to Z of Nine to Five
My past professional roles did not demand weaving tales of this nature (I didn’t work for Enron, where it might have come in handy) and my current work rarely requires me to pen flowery prose. It’s actually more common to find me knee deep in a spreadsheet, concatenating* formulae.
What’s more, I admit I find sheer joy in hunting down that one devious digit preventing my total from balancing, while suffering deep contempt for the tortuously worded contracts I review.
But much as I am comforted by the black and white nature of a straightforward calculation, I can’t escape the fact that I am a secret logophile, or word lover. For evidence, see my use of the word concatenating. Mmm. Roll it in your mouth and it tastes like a sweet hit of whisky.
Yes, I love words.
Specifically I love my native language, English. I hesitate to further classify this as UK English because, honestly, I am biased and English in my mind should always be UK English, not some other ‘lesser’ variant.
US English in particular I can find irrationally irksome. I would happily support any campaign which sought to alleviate this — what about one dubbed “You & Me”? If it’s all about “U” please put it back in the words color and favorite; if it’s all about “Me” please put it back in program. I say that, but actually some words considered American started life across the pond in England, such as candy (chocolate) and fall (autumn), so maybe I’m the unreasonable one.
Bunch of Thieves
English is commonly referred to as a living language. It is constantly evolving and its vocabulary developed in an organic, multicultural way many years before such terms made it into a dictionary.
Its origins stem from centuries of island invasions and the subsequent settlers. We have roots in the Germanic languages, mixed with a touch of French, some Latin, and some Greek. We shamelessly steal words from our European neighbours (my doppelganger [Germany] was having a siesta [Spanish] in the sauna [Finnish]). And I have no qualms about poaching further afield. How about the girl singing karaoke [Japan] was wearing a bandana [Indian].
In fact according to wordorigins.org only one-sixth of our words have survived from the old English that was borne out of the conquests of the 5th century. It is even more revealing that although nearly half of our language is derived from that old English, the other half we’ve simply ‘acquired’ from around the globe.
“Don't gobblefunk around with words.” Roald Dahl, BFG
I don’t just love words for themselves, I’m also drawn to words that describe their use or meaning. For example, the word sesquipedalian amuses me. It is a long word used to describe long words, or characterises someone who uses long words.
Meanwhile, someone that fears long words is described as suffering from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. Really? Seriously? No sorry, that’s just getting ridiculous. Not only are there not enough letters in Scrabble® for that, no self-respecting word should have a song written about it.
Instead how about a great oxymoron (meaning pointedly foolish or contradictory, which is a brilliant word in itself: from the Greek oxus, meaning sharp, plus mōros, meaning foolish.)? Examples include random logic, virtual reality, working holiday and definitely maybe.
Or perhaps some onomatopoeia — words that sound like their meaning like sizzle, bang, hiss (that award-winning boy band from 1985 — no, I’m kidding, but you may remember Snap, Crackle & Pop from Kellog’s Rice Krispies®)?
To my mind there are even some words that don’t sound like their meaning, but naturally evoke it. For example, nefarious just seems wicked. Simply saying it makes me smile, which may be slightly worrying.
And how about collective nouns? A flock of sheep, a pack of wolves, a murder of crows — as far as I’m concerned I could spend hours coming up with new ones: an ego of creatives, a hack of writers, a font of designers. Another bonus of the language is having multiple meanings of the same word, or homonyms:
- an abundant source
- a receptacle for holy water
- a complete set of type of one size and face
And then there are the words that sound the same but have different meanings, or homophones. Like write, rite, right. I could go on but for your sake I’ll give them a wide berth. Or should that be birth?
Hoverboards and Very Slow Ants
So is there a definitive source for all these word shenanigans? Probably not, although I would recommend the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It has a long and well-respected history and was the first real attempt to collate the words in use at the time along with their etymology.
The project was started in 1857 at the behest of the Philological Society of London. According to OED Online, “its scope [was and] is astonishing: to provide a brief, scientific account of the history and usage of all the words of the English language, wherever and whenever they were spoken”.
Apparently five years into the forecasted ten year project, they had only reached the word “ant”. In fact the final part of the dictionary was not published until 1928.
OED continues to publish updates on a regular basis, due to our ever-changing language landscape. The latest words to be added include hoverboard and water baby, and to gain entry, a word must have solid evidence of use for more than ten years. Of course, there are many other sources of new words and while the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time, its sister publication the online Oxford Dictionaries focuses on current language and practical usage.
Given the average adult’s native vocabulary is around 25,000 words, the depth and growth of the English language means that to me, it will never lose its fascination.
While I may not be required to be a wordsmith, here at Novus we have great people who are. They are people who can use language to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, and that is just one of the many reasons I enjoy working here.