Words and more words

You’d think it’d be easy to come up with ideas for stories when there are so many words to choose from in the English language. It has acquired the largest vocabulary of all the world’s languages, perhaps as many as two billion words, and has generated one of the noblest bodies of literature in the annals of the human race.

Think about it. A woman can man a station but a man can’t woman one. Why is it that when the sun or the moon or the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible? Hammers don’t ham, ushers don’t ush (although they can hush), grocers don’t groce. Slim chance means a small chance, but fat chance means none. And then there are those unpaired words that look like they should have an opposite, but don’t: have you ever met someone who was ruly, gruntled, or peccable? Peckable, maybe.

Oxford Dictionaries say that the word ‘time’ is the most often used noun in the English language. They got this information from the Oxford English Corpus, a research project representing all types of English, from literary novels to newspapers to the language of chatrooms, emails and blogs. Apparently, ‘the’ is the most commonly used word, followed by be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have, and I.

More than 45,000 new words and meanings were added to the latest revision of the Oxford English Dictionary. These include the heart sign, the first graphical symbol to signify a word. You can also look up OMG (oh my God) and LOL (laugh out loud or lots of love), Muffin Top (a roll of fat visible above the top of a pair of women’s tight-fitting low-waisted trousers) and WAG (the wife or girlfriend of a sports player). They’ve added Tinfoil Hat – (noun used with allusion to the belief that such a hat made of metal foil will protect the wearer from mind control or surveillance – well, it works for me) and Five-second Rule (a notional rule which allows you to pick up and eat food dropped on the floor within the specified period of time). I heart it.

Some families use totally made up words. Does yours? Sometimes they’re kids’ first attempts at a word that just stick. But others don’t seem to have any basis – my late father in law, when feeling listless and tired, used to say ‘I’ve got Lawrence’. How Lawrence felt is not recorded.

Happy holidays, Season’s Greetings, Merry Christmas to all.