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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The English language needs a few more words: Part Two

The English language now has somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 words (my dog recognizes about 20 of them). Each year old words fade away and new words gain acceptance. Some words are extremely common. Some are  shunned. Some are encountered only in scientific documents or word games.

For 2009, dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster first recognized such terms as "carbon footprint," "staycation," "vlog," "webisode," and "waterboarding." They did not necessarily first show up in 2009, but M-W decided that they were used often enough in 2009 to be officially noted.

The latest update of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has new entries including "OMG," "LOL,"  "taquito," and the "five-second rule."

Despite the huge number and variety of English words, I think we still need a few more -- and they have nothing to do with modern technology like hybrid cars or 3D TV.

Yesterday I campaigned for a simple word to replace "his or her."

We also need a contraction for "am not."

We say "isn't he?" and "aren't you?" and "aren't they?"

"You" has become acceptable for both second-person-singular and second-person plural use, but "are" just seems weird when coupled to a singular noun.

"Aren't I?" sounds like a subject/verb mismatch, and "am I not?" sounds Biblical or Shakespearian -- certainly not appropriate for the 21st century.

There is a very simple solution: amn't, for such uses as: "Why are you taking the small car? Amn't I going with you?"

I first thought of this in sixth grade. My teacher dismissed my suggestion claiming that "ain't" originally meant "am not" and was pronounced "ahnt." She said that the word has been so frequently misused that it's no longer considered proper English, even when used the proper way.

I'm not the first to think of "amn't." It's used in dialects of Scottish English and Irish English. The OED shows an entry for "amn't" from a magazine published in 1691, and the variation "an't." There's more here.

More than 50 years have passed since my teacher spurned my suggestion. Today I am trying again.


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