05:07:19 pm on
Friday 12 Jul 2024

Self-defining Words
David Simmonds

You may have noticed the Collins Dictionary people have added some 6,500 new words to the Scrabble Word List, all generated since the last update in 2011.

Read the fine print.

If you haven’t read the fine print, you will be delighted to know of the inclusion of such gems as “emoji,” “facetime,” “hashtag” “and “sexting,” as well as such delightful slang terms as “augh,” “blech,” “eew,” “grr, “waah” and “yeesh.” Of particular interest to diehards will be such potential heavy pointgetters as “geocache,” “checkbox,” “hactivist” and “thanx.” As for me, I play Scrabble only with words I actually use, which permits me to lose gracelessly to someone who is prepared to put down “thanx” in order to secure a bonus.

That 6,500 new word total must mean that an awful lot of them are coming into public circulation for some reason. It does and there is. According to the head of language content at Collins, Helen Newstead, “Dictionaries have always included formal and informal English, but it used to be hard to find printed evidence of the use of slang words. Now, people use slang in social media posts, tweets, blogs, comments, text messages, you name it, so there’s a host of evidence for informal varieties of English that didn’t exist before.” It seems so obvious when she puts it that way.

If newer, even if from slang or otherwise, words are coming into our vocabularies at a greater clip, it follows that older words are falling into disuse in greater numbers as well: our vocabularies can’t grow endlessly. I am not one to argue that the onward march of civilization be stopped in its tracks. I do want to suggest there are many colourful words that we would do very well to keep by continuing to use them, even if the cost of doing so is forgoing the chance to add such statuesque words as “blech” to our vocabularies.

Long forgotten, colourful words abound.

I’m not talking about those long-forgotten-but-colourful-sounding words, such as “wamblecropt,” meaning overcome with indigestion, which show up in top-10 internet lists. Nor am I talking about onomatopeiac words, such as “oink,” which describe the very sound they make. I’m not recommending that we use Brobdingnagian, a fictional land in “Gulliver’s Travels,” by Jonathan Swift, which is populated by giants. Such words are unnecessarily long.

No, I’m talking about the words that practically define themselves when spoken aloud and that give, it must be said, a certain cheap pleasure in the utterance. For example, to say a meal is “scrumptious” more or less completely makes the point that you have enjoyed it and eaten heartily. Similarly, “drat” neatly captures your reaction to spilling soup on the tablecloth during a fancy meal at your mother-in-law’s house and is a higher quality choice in the circumstances than most other four-letter expletives.

Let’s keep going with the examples, and we’ll use dismissive words. If I tell you that someone is a “rapscallion,” “pipsqueak,” “finagler,’” “fussbudget,” “charlatan,” “bounder,” “scalawag” “curmudgeon,” “scofflaw,” “wiseacre,” “blowhard,” “hornswoggler” or “sycophant”; not all at once, of course: let’s talk about the Senate another time. You get a good idea of how I characterize that person, even though you may not have been familiar with the term. Actually, you’re saving time in the explanation process by using a word that defines itself.

It’s the same for words for rubbish, such as “piffle,” “codswallop,” “tripe,” “twaddle,” “balderdash” and “gobbledegook.” For mindless nonsense, it’s “folderol,” “rigmarole” and “foofaraw.” It’s enough to give you the collywobbles, especially if you have been lollygagging around; unless, you have already had a bit of a kerfuffle from all your gallivanting or even become flummoxed from mollycoddling.

I won't give up these Scrabble words.

You’re asking me to give those words up in favour of modern slang. Blech! I’d sooner lose at Scrabble. Although, come to think of it, perhaps “checkbox” is not such a bad word after all. Maybe I’ll add that potential bonus-getter to my vocabulary and ditch something, such as “fussbudget,” which, although it’s a prime self-defining word, is too long to use as a Scrabble word anyway; unless, of course, it’s built on top of “fuss,” “bud,“ “get,” “budge” or “budget.” In no time, I could transform into a gracious winner. That’s a

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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