Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Writing Life: English as a Flexible Language

One of the beauties of the English language is its ability to absorb new words to reflect our changing culture. Here are definitions for some words officially recognized by the Merriam Webster and Oxford English dictionaries.

Baliwood or Bollywood – The film capital of India.

Blog – The words “Web log” shortened and condensed to mean an online journal.

Corporatization – When corporations, not the government, control economic reform.

Earjacking – A graphic way of saying eavesdropping.

Google – A play on the mathematical term “googol,” it’s the brand name of the most powerful online search engine.

Insourcing – Performing a service within a company, rather than sending the work out to a vendor or another company.

– A person who eats locally grown and harvested food.

Muggle – From the Harry Potter novels, meaning a person with no magical powers.

Webcast – Broadcasting an audio or visual program over the World Wide Web.

That’s just the new words. Then there are the words that have added new meanings.

As a naturalist, “spider” describes an 8-legged arachnid. As a writer who publishes online, “spider” is how Google ranks material published online.

In nature a “web” is what a spider weaves to catch insects for food. In the 21st Century, the “Web” is the abbreviation for the World Wide Web, linking users on the Internet.

I’ll save the topic of phrases for another article.

The words “muggle” and “locavore” came to my attention because of writers. JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series is credited with inventing “muggle.” My head spins when I think of the fact that it took less than ten years for her invented word to make it into the dictionary.

The word “locavore,” created by four women in San Francisco, also made it into the dictionary in less than ten years. Locavore became part of my vocabulary when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle. I aspire to Kingsolver’s mastery of an eco-friendly lifestyle and her mastery of the written word.

If Thoreau or Darwin came back today, I wonder how long it would take them to translate from 19th to 21st Century spoken English. Could they have a conversation with Rowling and Kingsolver?

That’s one conversation I’d love to eavesdrop on – I mean earjack.

JJ Murphy has been eating wild foods since her farmer parents pulled weeds from the veggie garden and she ate the weeds. JJ continues to forage and write in Harriman, NY, posting recipes and resource information at

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