01 August 2005

"Ain't" Isn't a Word

How do people tend to back up such a claim as "ain't" isn't a word? They generally refer back to dictionaries, which even if they have a definition for the twisted contraction, refers to the word as slang—in other words, not accepted for anything but "low-brow" conversation.

But, who decides such a thing? There are words I can only find in one of those extensive sets of dictionaries found in university libraries that stretch so long they make Encyclopedia Britannica look like pamphlets. Most people don't own or have access to these dictionaries, so how can they turn to them?

The fact is, if there is a word out there, there's most likely a dictionary for it. Check out The Electric Eclectic for scores of specialty dictionaries. Maybe you'll find your "non-existent" word there. From a Dictionary of Victorian London to a Dictionary of Street Drug Slang Terms, from an Opera Dictionary to a Rap Dictionary, from a Pittsburgh Dictionary to a Dictionary of Oregon Trade Languages, The Electric Eclectic probably has the words you didn't know you needed—until you see them.

Of course, sometimes we make up our own words, sometimes with hopes of having it enter common usage. I have a friend who uses phrases like "What's crackalating" and "Don't go sikking Skragatha on me." Believe it or not, there's a site where you can add your words to the collective lexicon for your fellow "netizens" (as Leo Buscaglia refers to online communities) to use. Pseudodictionary allows you to add words, search out other words, and discuss language formation.

Have fun with language; it's mostly arbitrary, arbitrary in the sense that we determine which words continue to stay in use and which are pitched into obscurity. When was the last time you used the word gadarene to refer to a headlong rush of something, be it water or a crowd?


Robert Casserly said...

May I join in and rant about a different but sorta related subject?

I think we need an online forum to help each other invent words that need inventing.

For example, I think the world would be a better place if we had a good word to describe "a group of awkward husbands standing outside a women's bathroom holding purses"; we need a word for "the water that comes out of a ketchup bottle and makes your hot dog bun too soggy"; what do you call the pasty naseua brought on by licking too many stamps?

Kyle Stich said...

I've been mulling these ideas over, Robert, but haven't come up with anything yet. Maybe when I finally get my business site up, I'll add that discussion to it.

The water in settled ketchup? kizzle, tomato dew, ketchlump? I don't necessarily care for any of them, but it's a start.