It is only an imaginative use of language that allows for the emergence of new ideas and a new understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. We need to be linguistically inventive and ingenious if new insights are to be conceived of and articulated. And we also need to be aware of language that is no longer fit for purpose. It is incumbent on us to do something about words that have lost their vivacity and lounge lazily on the page.
C.?S. Lewis inveighed against the practice of verbicide – or the killing of words – a concept that was first proposed in the middle of the 19th century. Of course, words can’t be “killed” in a literal sense, but damage can certainly be done to them. For Lewis it meant hijacking words in order to use them to make evaluative judgements. His examples included “awesome” to mean “excellent”. “Awesome”, as far as Lewis was concerned, meant “inspiring awe or dread”. As I was writing this piece, using Microsoft Word, I clicked on synonyms for “awesome”. Up came “no suggestions”. The word has been confused. Another recent example of verbicide would be “wicked” to mean “excellent”, rather than “evil”.
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