Brain Pickings

Save the Words: Linguistic Intervention

Adoption drives, endangered literary species, and how to nerd your way to the latest buzzword.

We’re obsessed with words. Unfortunately, more than half of the world’s 6,800 or so languages?are expected to disappear before the century is over. While English may be missing from the book of endangered linguistic species, in the age of social media shorthand and vowelless acronyms, the average English speaker’s eloquence, linguistic dexterity and breadth of vocabulary is rapidly declining. Today, 90% of what we write is communicated using just 7,000 of the quarter-million words in the English language, a mere one-third of one percent.

Save the Words is a delightful language conservation effort from the makers of the Oxford English dictionary, the complete compendium of every word that ever existed in English. Driven by the simple insight that the best way to keep a word from dying is to use it often enough, the site offers a virtual wall of endangered lexemes that you’re invited to adopt, complete with playful sound effects as you hover over a word and it scrambles to grab your attention and get you to pick it.

Whether you’re a seplasiary (n. seller or producer of perfumes and ointments) or an Agonyclite (n. member of a religious sect that stood rather than kneeled), let’s face it — you could use a linguistic botox shot, rejuvenating your lexicon with a healthy dose of forgotten lingo. You can also sign up for a word-of-the-day email, delivering a daily new word fresh-packed in Oxford each morning.

The one downfall: The Flash-based design makes deep-linking impossible and individual words unsharable — yet another tragic missed opportunity from the sexy-over-shareable department.

Save the Words reminds us of lexicographer Erin McKean’s wonderful Wordnik, with a touch of Free Rice playfulness and a quirky twist. And if you play your cards right, you may even excavate a lexic gem to bring back as a hip new buzzword or, at the very least, a catchy Twitter hashtag.

via VSL

Published August 19, 2010




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