Hundred of words such as 'suffarcinate', 'jobler' and 'welmish' have fallen out of everyday use. But they're not dead yet . . .
If you've ever adopted something for charity then you know the drill. Send a tenner a year to a donkey sanctuary and you get a letter every six months explaining how well Trigger is doing now that he's got a new heated barn and that he's making a happy-sounding oncethmus (1) to show his contentment. Less cute than a donkey, but just as useful, are the hundreds of words slowly falling out of everyday use as the English language evolves and cuts off the stragglers with a Darwinian glee.
Every year new additions to the dictionary cause plenty of browbeating as talk radio presenters ponder the wisdom of adding phrases such as "chav" and "ruby murray" to the Oxford English Dictionary. This year's additions included vuvuzela, toxic debt, geo-engineering, microblogging and staycation. These usurpers roar into the pages of the OED like Gareth Bale through an Italian defence without a mention of the words that we've stopped using. There's not a squeak about suffarcinate (2) and not a whisper about weesquashing (3).
To combat this, a Malaysian subsidiary of the Oxford University Press has hit on a way to preserve the words that are falling out of favour quicker than you can say "archigrapher" (4). It's probably a handy way to flog dictionaries too, but we can forgive it that. Savethewords.org offers people who are lugent (5) at the thought of losing words such as philagyrist (6) and homerkin (7) a chance to adopt a word and then drop it casually into everyday conversation. It offers an endangered list of 450 terms that are the lexicographers' equivalent of a buffoonery (8) of orangutans.
G2 – being a right jobler (9) – was so moved by the plight of these little fellas that it took it upon itself to give one of them a good home and make sure it wouldn't end its days tucked away in a dusty university library. Unlike adopt-a-donkey, it's free to do, but the price is having to shoehorn the word into everyday conversation, which is a surefire way to make yourself popular at the dinner table.
The website's suggestions for spreading your adopted word around range from dropping it into meetings and letters to changing one's name by deed poll to something catchy such as Sturionic (10); graffiti – Banksy woz eternitarian (11) 'ere – as well as the less practical, including tattooing quadrimular (12) on to your navel or hiring a skywriter to blaze "modernicide" (13) across the skies. They probably didn't have Call My Bluff in Malaysia.
So what word did these lexicographical social workers give us to look after and litter the pages of G2 with until we turned welmish (14)? We got INOBLIGALITY. So rare that it doesn't even crop up in our 1,900-page Collins. Inobligality, we've learned, is the quality of not being obligatory. The example given on handover is: "It is an inobligality, but it would still be nice if you wished Grandma 'happy birthday'." You'd probably argue that wishing your granny a happy birthday probably is obligatory, but let's go with it:
"Reading G2 is an inobligality, but it's full of great articles about lexicography." How's that?
It's not an inobligality but we'll be using inobligality in a conversation a day like an aeipathy (15) until someone decides that it's an inobligality to slap us around the face.
And the definitions?
(1) Oncethmus - The loud and hard cry of a donkey (2) Suffarcinate - Pack tightly (3) Weesquashing - Spearing of fish or eels by torchlight from canoes. (4) Archigrapher - Principal or head secretary or clerk (5) Lugent - Sobbing or grieving (6) Philagyrist - Someone who loves money (7) Homerkin - Liquid measure for beer (8) Not a rare word as such, but the collective noun for orangutans, which is weird enough to warrant a footnote (9) Jobler - One who does small jobs (10) Sturionic - Pertaining to the sturgeon. (11) Eternitarian - One who believes in the eternity of the soul (12) Quadrimular - Something lasting four years - unlike a tattoo! (13) Modernicide - The killing of modern people. (14) Welmish - Of a pale or sickly colour (15) Aeipathy - A continued passion; an unyielding disease
Adopt your own at savethewords.org