Aquabob, clinkerbell, daggler, cancervell, ickle, tankle, shuckle, crottle, doofers, honeyfur, zawn …
The English language used to be a rich language, full of vivid, precise words to describe the landscape and natural phenomena. But where are these words nowadays? According to Robert Macfarlane we have not kept up with developing this side of our language, on the contrary we have an impoverished language for landscape. He is worried that A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining.
Here are some examples of (almost, or soon to be) lost words:
- a caochan: a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight
- a feadan: a small stream running from a moorland loch
- rionnach maoim: the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day
- spangin: walking vigorously
- roarie bummlers: fast-moving storm clouds
Words die when we stop using them. But we do also create new ones. Finding the right words, the best words, is a difficult job. Some of us spend most of our days searching for them.
Why should this loss (the loss of words) matter? You can’t even use crizzle as a Scrabble word: there aren’t two “z”s in the bag (unless, of course, you use a blank). It matters because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.
“The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there,” observed JA Baker in The Peregrine (1967), a book that brilliantly shows how such seeing might occur in language. To me there is a parallel here – writing about art and writing about nature are similar activities. As a writer I comprehend, perceive, discern, recognize and understand the world and myself through and with words.
It is of the greatest importance that we keep our language living.