Dot Wordsworth


A baffling news report appeared last week in the newspaper that I read while I was waiting for my husband to have his hair cut — long enough considering how little he still has. ‘Traditional British words are dying out, because text speak has become so popular, research has found,’ said the report.

Right, texters favour short words. So what are the words that are meant to be dying out? Cad, bogus, swell, smite and bally were among the top 20 given. They do not seem very long. A long word was included in the list: rambunctious. It can never have been very frequent, and is a mere variant of rumbustious, itself a variant of robustious, a word that I have never head anyone use.

The obvious point about rambunctious is that, as the Oxford English Dictionary says, it is ‘originally and chiefly US’. So not a ‘traditional British word’. Among the quotations from its 180 years that the OED gives, only one is not in an American context, a snippet from a story by Kipling about traction engines, in which the dialogue goes: ‘What happens if he upsets?’ ‘The petrol will light up and the boiler may blow up.’ ‘How rambunkshus!’ It is not clear that Kipling’s character is using the word in its ordinary sense.

Anyway, other words in the list include bally (which the OED called ‘somewhat dated’ in 1972); cripes (also first included in the OED in 1972, ‘a vulgar perversion of Christ’); swell (colloquial, ‘now chiefly US’) and cad, a 19th-century word which even in 1888 the OED called ‘an offensive and insulting appellation’).

So what is going on? The ‘research’ seems to have been a survey of 2,000 people.

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