A recent article by Ruth Wajnryb in the Spectrum section of the Sydney Morning Herald gave me pause for thought. Ruth was talking about how the powers that be (in this case the Collins Dictionary people) decide when a word is dead.

A word can live on in a dictionary for some time, firstly marked as archaic (arch) or obsolete (obs) before being axed. Teams of lexicographers gather and look for the use of these words in the public domain before deciding that they are pushing up metaphorical daisies. In an effort to prevent the loss of some words, Collins has launched The Last Word Project. They have a list of endangered words and they’ve enlisted the assistance of various celebrities, politicians and media types to adopt a word each and attempt to get it back into the vernacular between now and January next year.

The example words given in Wajnryb’s column are:

Skirr – the sound made by a bird’s wings in flight
Fubsy – short and stout
Niddering – cowardly
Caliginosity – dimness
Embrangle – embroil/entangle
Oppugnant – combative
Fatidical – prophetic

These words are all on death row, even though they’ve committed no crime. I’ve been trying to find the full list, with no success. For some reason it seems to be a rather secret Project. In an effort to help out, I’ve started a little nonsense story containing each of the endangered words listed above. Feel free to share the story around and help to save a word from extinction. If you do share the story with anyone, be sure to include this explanation or I’ll seem like a right wanker. Or at the very least strangely Dickensian.

(And if anyone can find the full list of words on Collins’ execution list, please share and I’ll try to finish the tale!)

The King and the Lost Words

The King looked up as the skirr of a passing nightingale disturbed him. He frowned, annoyed that his train of thought had been derailed. He clambered down from the wall he was sitting on, a considerable effort for his fubsy frame, and wandered back towards the castle.

He had been thinking about the best way to deter the oppugnant Clitheroe from making another play for his lands in the north. Clitheroe was a tribal king of considerable caliginosity, but he was not a niddering man. The King knew that if he wasn’t careful he would become embrangled in another long and drawn out skirmish.

As he walked he remembered the fatidical comments of his court advisor when the man had suggested that he destroy Clitheroe years ago in the Battle of the Swamps. If only he had listened then.