I just love words, don’t you? I am, after all, an author; words are what I use in my craft. If writing is like painting then words are the medium the artist uses to create images. Words have textures and shades of meaning. They have nuance, and they create different pictures in the mind depending on how they are used. Nothing makes me happier than when I sit down with a pen in hand or with an open laptop, ready to create pictures with words.
English in particular is a rich language. There are over 170,000 words in modern English, although most English speakers use only a fraction of those–maybe 35,000 or so, or more if the person is highly educated. (Note: some sources say English has as many as 800,000 words, a truly astonishing number!) But what makes English such a rich language is the fact that it is, in some ways, a collection of many other languages.
Modern English started as an Anglo-Saxon derivative, influenced by Old German. Notice, for example, the similarity between words like mutter and mother, vinum and wine, garten and garden. It also incorporates many words from the ancient Greek and Roman. In fact, Greek and Latin roots are behind about 60% of English words, particularly in law and medicine. To this day a knowledge of Greek and Latin is strongly encouraged for lawyers and people in the medical field. (My high school English teacher made us memorize dozens and dozens of Greek and Latin roots. Thank you, Mrs. Vocature, whevever you are!)
Finally, English takes a sizable percentage of its words from the French and Norman languages. This is especially noticeable with words pertaining to food: venison, mutton, poultry,meringue, etc.
This is not a cow; it’s “boeuf” (beef).
You can also find French/Norman words in fields like government (parliament, bailiff), religion (diocese, vicar), and the military (squadron, platoon).
Because of these many roots, a writer in the English language has a wide palette of words to choose from for even a simple concept. For example, consider the very basic word red. An author who wants to say that Darcy handed Elizabeth a rose could say that the rose was red, cardinal, crimson, or maroon; garnet or ruby; scarlet, titian or vermilion. They could also add that it smelled sweet and honeyed or candied or cloying; or they could really tax their reader’s vocabulary and describe it as aromatic, redolent, or odoriferous.
With so many words in the English language there are many words that have become obsolete. Many of them are descriptive and enriching, words that could still be used today with good effect. On my personal blog site I am going to start a regular feature looking at old English words that have fallen into disuse, either from Jane Austen’s day or earlier. The first word we will highlight is the word lucubrate, which does not mean what it sounds like! Here’s a hint:
It’s something Jane Austen probably did a lot! But to the best of my knowledge it’s not used in any of her books.
Take a guess what it means, and then write a sentence below to use it! (No cheating!) I can’t wait to see what you come up with. And then keep an eye on my blog in the future for more interesting words!