Society for Pure English, Tract 03 (1920) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 25 pages of information about Society for Pure English, Tract 03 (1920).
into that limbo of archaisms and affectations to which so many beautiful but dead words of our language have been unhappily banished.  It is not that these words lose their lustre, as many words lose it, by hackneyed use and common handling; the process is exactly opposite; by not being used enough, the phosphorescence of decay seems to attack them, and give them a kind of shimmer which makes them seem too fine for common occasions.  But once a word falls out of colloquial speech its life is threatened; it may linger on in literature, but its radiance, at first perhaps brighter, will gradually diminish, and it must sooner or later fade away, or live only as a conscious archaism.  The fate of many beautiful old words like teen and dole and meed has thus been decided; they are now practically lost to the language, and can probably never be restored to common use.[2] It is, however, an interesting question, and one worthy of the consideration of our members, whether it may be possible, at its beginning, to stop this process of decay; whether a word at the moment when it begins to seem too poetical, might not perhaps be reclaimed for common speech by timely and not inappropriate usage, and thus saved, before it is too late, from the blight of over-expressiveness which will otherwise kill it in the end.

[Footnote 2:  But concerning the words dole and meed see Tract II On English Homophones.  Both these words have suffered through homophony. Dole is a terrible example. 1, a portion = deal; 2, grief = Fr. deuil, Lat. dolor; 3, deceit, from the Latin dolus, Gk. [Greek:  dolos].  All three have been in wide use and have good authority; but neither 2 (which is presumably that which the writer intends) nor 3 can be restored, nor is it desirable that they should be, the sound having been specially isolated to a substantive and verb in the sense of No. 1.

Meed is likewise lost by homophony with 1 mead = meadow and 2 mead = metheglin:  and it is a very serious loss.  No. 1 is almost extinct except among farmers and hay merchants, but the absurd ambiguity of No. 2 is effective.

Teen, the writer’s third example, has shown recent signs of renewed vitality in literature. [Ed.]]

The usage in regard to these tainted words varies a good deal, though probably not so much as people generally think:  some of them, like delve and dwell, still linger on in metaphors; and people will still speak of delving into their minds, and dwelling in thought, who would never think of delving in the garden, or dwelling in England; and we will call people swine* or hounds, although we cannot use these words for the animals they more properly designate.  We can speak of a swift* punishment, but not a swift bird, or airplane, or steamer, and we shun a thought, but not a bore; and many similar

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Society for Pure English, Tract 03 (1920) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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