A History of Words

I will not attempt to give an entire history of words. But, what I find fascinating is how set people get in things. A very brief and slightly lackadaisical look at the history of words might compel readers to start inventing words of their own.

It’s a fact that at one time there were no words. At the writing of the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, there were almost 200,000 active words, nearly 50,000 no longer in use and about 10,000 derivatives. The interesting fact is how many words we no longer even remember and how many words we will eventually invent, embrace and discard just like the others.

So, the “oohs” and “ahs” of the cave people needed to go. We only let our children use those words today because what else would they say if we didn’t at least give them those? But when sophistication steps into human record is when we start to build a lexicon of words that apply to what we need and want at every era throughout our history.

Earth, Wind and Fire might be the name of a very good American R&B band, but they are also the first words introduced into our language. Of course, that language wasn’t English. It was more of an Indo-European dialect that actually contains the origins of several European languages that exist today. And that’s just the beginning.

English happened to come along finally after years of torture and misery. In fact, there was so much chaos in the beginning that words had no definite spelling. William Shakespeare’s name had arguably about thirteen different spellings itself. It didn’t matter back then because people believed meaning was more important.

With the various dialects of English across England and the influence still lingering from the Indo-European split, we have a confusing inconsistency in spellings. “Q” and “K” are often swapped. “D” and “T” suffer the same ambiguity. “B” and “P” just can’t seem to get their act together at all. Those are only a few examples.

Eventually English starts to get a sense of stability. William Shakespeare gets one spelling. In fact, over the next several years or so linguists make a solid attempt to pin down all the words to a final spelling. Yes, it’s a fact that some words aren’t quite there yet even today. Just ask any non-English speaking student learning English as a Second Language. The confusion on their face is priceless. Not intentional, but priceless nonetheless.

So, what does all that lead up to say? Have fun inventing words. Refusing to give an estimation that could possibly be way off, I do remember statistics given to me in college but that was a long time ago, the English language develops at a very fast rate. That’s because people are interesting and creative. The English language never stood a chance at ever getting boring. Words that get adopted and grow into common use get added to the dictionary. Make your mark!