September 6, 2016

Lost for words?

I’ve just finished Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Landmarks’ and if you were ever lost for words, here’s the perfect antidote.

The book is a paean (a song of praise or triumph, in this instance to the names we give {gave?} things) against the steady erosion of words which perfectly capture the smallest of observations (so a smeuse? A gap in the hedge created by wildlife’s traffic) to most expansive gestures (twilight in Devon? That’ll be the dimmity).

The book also laments the passing of words out of our ‘official’ lexicon; by way of example, the Oxford University Press erasing once common words (well, actually, still uncommonly useful to me) from the OJD. Words such as fern, kingfisher and hazel, to make space for bullet-point, cut and paste and voicemail. Once it might have been justified on the grounds of the cost of collecting, printing and distributing expensive books – there’s terrabyte-sized space for every word today.

And while I’m not arguing for a dead language, petrified in a past tense, our endless ability to invent shouldn’t occlude the richness of what we already have; the grasp of which allows us the greatest scope to communicate.

Memory’s a fickle mistress and we need as many words as we can get to capture our ideas, however esoteric, arcane or anachronistic they might seem right now. As Robert notes and John C Sawhill surmises,

“society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy”.

I might add what we refuse to forget.

If you’re using language, in any creative capacity, a trip to Landmarks is well worth a detour.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

Category

Experiences, Identity, Language, storytelling, Writing

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