Birth of words

Play a while

Sport events are now known for the new entrants they bring to the lexicon. Vuvuzelas may come and go; for the linguist each event is remarkable for the impact it leaves on the lingo. The vuvuzela is a trumpet-like wind instrument that creates music comparable to an angry hive of bees. A traditional African music instrument, it has experienced a record hike in sales from 500 a month to 50,000 a month since the commencement of the World Cup football matches. Another potential African loan word will be ‘ubuntu’ that is the Zulu word for the Zulu approach to life: selfless, united and respectful to all. The US soccer team has already ‘borrowed’ it. Two more loans in the pipeline are from the world cup anthem: ‘waka-waka’ meaning ‘do it’ and ‘tsamina mina’ meaning ‘come come’. Both are motivational expressions.

Learn a little

All true linguists assert that the language belongs to the user. The recognition of new words is one process that proves their point. To be a part of the corpus, a word may be clever, intriguing and colorful but it would not be accepted by the editors of any dictionary unless it is widely used. Such is the power of the user.

Intriguing words

‘Talent’ can mean ‘weight’. In ancient times, the ‘talenta’ was a unit of weight. It was only after the word was used figuratively in the Bible that it came to refer to ‘natural aptitude or skill’. In Matthew 25:14-30, a master gives one, two and 10 talents of silver to each of his three servants.

Two of them use their talents well and double the number while the third one buries his coin and fails to benefit from it.

Today when we talk of developing someone’s talent we have this biblical sense in mind.

Precise usage

A misnomer is the wrong use of a name for something or someone inappropriate or undeserving; it began life as a word in legal jargon for ‘a mistake in naming’.

So, one can say, “The name ‘lake’ is a misnomer for this ‘little pool’” but not ‘Hard work is a misnomer for what he is doing’.