Saturday, December 2, 2000

New words

THE first formal treatise on etymology was an Indian one, as far back as the 5th century BC, composed to explain the difficult words in Rig Veda. A century later, Plato used a method similar to modern etymology in his Cratylus, a dialogue on the meaning of words. Etymology started life as a term of philosophy( etymos, meaning true, and logos, meaning word). With the introduction of Sanskrit into European scholarship, the study of etymology along scientific lines became possible. In the beginning of the 19th century, European scholars studying Sanskrit noted its resemblance in vocabulary to Latin and Greek. The comparison of vocabulary was extended to other languages and the idea of a common origin, a parent language was soon established, leading to a study of loanwords.

Loanwords are often taken from one register of language into another. Register refers to the variety of language used by people belonging to a particular discipline or profession, e.g. the register of journalism, words used usually by journalists. New words enter everyday language from technical registers frequently. Recently, the word borborygmus, to date a medical term, became one of the new words of everyday English. Borborygmus comes from the Greek borborugmus, ‘to have a rumbling in the bowels’ and refers to the rumbling sounds made by the movement of gases in the stomach and intestine. Similarly, hallux from the Latin hallus is the zoological term for the first digit in the hind foot of some mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It now means the big toe.

Words from myths
November 11,2000
The Olympics
October 14,2000
More metaphors
September 30, 2000
Metaphorical colour
September 16, 2000
Broader vistas
September 2, 2000
August 19, 2000
August 5, 2000
Partial twins
July 22, 2000
Language growth
July 8, 2000
June 24, 2000
The law and Latin
June 10, 2000
Vague words
May 27, 2000
Words from war
May 13, 2000

Otiose belongs to the group of words labelled ‘archaic’, no longer in use. Revived recently from the Latin otiosus (at leisure, idle), it today means worthless or lazy. Pellucid, another new word, comes from the Latin perlucere or shine through). Pellucid means translucently clear or clear in meaning. Whereas earlier language users were content with throwing people and things out of the window, now they want a new-fangled word like defenestrate, ‘to throw somebody or something out of the window’ from the Latin fenestra or window. To confuse, perplex or entangle somebody or something also has a new description: the new word embrangle comes from the French branler (to shake).

Changes in lifestyle lead to word coinages, as in the case of cullet, meaning broken or waste glass returned for recycling. It comes from an obsolete word, no longer in use, collet, meaning glass left on the end of a blowing iron when the finished article has been removed. In the same vein, garbology from garbage and logy refers to the study of a cultural group by an examination of what it discards. We are all familiar with literati and glitterati. While literati from Latin literatus (acquainted with letters) refers to well-educated people interested in literature and glitterati from glitter is a fashionable set of people engaged in show-business or other glamorous activity, digerati is an addition to the family. Formed from digital, digerati refers to computer experts, people who have or claim to have a sophisticated expertise in the area of computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web.

Why get acquainted with new words?

British novelist Evelyn Waugh answers, "One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilisation or it will die."


Hindi neologisms often originate due to a shift in the emphasis of word meaning. Bhandara, a storehouse for utensils, came to be used for just a storehouse. Sanskar, refinement, became a consecration, a sacred rite and an impression on memory. Similarly, a sanskaran was a purification but has come to refer to any edition which may not even be revised and purified.

— Deepti

This feature was published on November 25, 2000