We often hear about words being added to dictionaries as they become part of everyday vernacular, but have you ever heard about any words that get removed? Some people argue that if a word has existed at some point in time then it merits a place in the dictionary. After all, who knows when someone may come across it in an old text and need to look up the definition? Others say that dictionaries should reflect the language that we use in the here and now, and so those words which have become obsolete in everyday language should no longer have a place in the dictionary.
Language and culture are constantly changing, so how do we keep up with these changes without losing our past?
Collins Dictionaries has recently announced that they will be dropping various words from its smaller English dictionary versions as they have become obsolete and outdated. According to The Guardian, some of the words which have made it on to this list of extinction include:
- Wittol - a word used in the 1940s and earlier to describe a man who tolerates his wife’s unfaithfulness.
- Aerodrome – a word which refers to the place where aircrafts take off and land. It is almost the equivalent to today’s ‘airports’. The word is still used in official documents by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) but rarely in everyday language.
- Charabanc - referred to a motor coach usually used for sightseeing. This word comes from the French expression ‘char-à-bancs’, which means wagon with seats.
- Succedaneum - signifying something used as a substitute. This word is mostly used in the medical sphere to describe any drug that can be taken in place of another.
- Supererogate - not performing more than is actually required.
While some words become obsolete from everyday language, others still exist but their meaning has changed over time. Words like fun fur have remained in use as their meanings have been adapted to current circumstances. Fun fur used to refer to cheap animal fur that had been dyed in several colors until the 1960s. Today it refers to synthetic fur.
Though many of these words on the list are rarely used in modern society, they will still have a place in the bigger dictionaries as they might be relevant to specific fields, and logistically there is enough space to keep them there unlike in the smaller versions.
Words and their meanings are always bound to specific contexts and times in which their meaning makes sense. Anyone learning a language needs to be aware of how words are used today and historically in order to correctly interpret and understand their meaning. Language courses can help people keep up with the constant changes in language to make sure that their skills are the most appropriate for today’s modern world.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011