Birth and Death of Words in Our Evolving Languages

If you like words you may find this interesting.

For no particular reason the word “coryza” came to mind.  No one that I know has ever used it, but it occasionally seems to be mentioned in older medical literature where I took it to be synonymous with an upper respiratory ailment like a cold.

The etymology is from Latin from Greek koruza meaning nasal mucous.

It came into use in the 16th century and refers to inflammation of the nasal mucosa.

What I unexpectedly found, which answered my question about whether it is used, was a graph without any values appearing to illustrate usage.  When I tried to copy the image I was directed to the page where it was found.

On that page there are incidences of mention graphed over time.   Right clicking offered the option of selecting the portion of the page you want to copy and make a screen shot.


There is also the option of searching another word or phrase.  I chose, "egad" – case insensitive and – since this is a service of Google– got the answer in microseconds.


I listened to a program on NPR recently – I think on the Terri Gross show – on the constantly evolving nature of languages, about how written languages, like English, are a fraction of the languages in the world, and languages are oral and the evolution occurs in everyday speech.  So, the written word is a snapshot of the spoken language, frozen in time, and likely to sound archaic over time.

As writers we think of writing as a record of what is proper and the classics as the way language ought to be written.  However, no one thinks we should write in the English of Beowulf. 

Words are borrowed from other languages to English.  They are invented to fill a need, as in technology.  And they rise up as slang which may eventually enter the common lexicon and eventually written English.

The slang my daughters used in their late teens and twenties sounds dated now.  They might still describe something as “rad” or “gnarly”, but not very often for rad and probably never for gnarly.  Gnarly, like ‘bad’ was insider slang with a contrary meaning.  Gnarly was good.

My granddaughters use the word random in a newly derived way.  Random has meant “without choice”, by chance, and implied events or factors over which we have no control.  My granddaughters use it to mean “previously unknown” as in “I was waiting in line and some random guy offered to sell me a ticket to the concert.”

This meaning is in some way connected to the older meaning.  It will endure if it meets a need other than as teen insider speech.

Coryza was probably used in the late nineteenth century in an effort to avoid sounding vulgar.  I don’t know.  Runny nose won out.

Egad!, was the favorite expletive of Major Hoople in the “Our Boarding House” comic strip.

 I think it derived from “ye gods”.  Why did it die out when gosh, darn, and gee persisted?

Gee, I dunno.

Views: 185

Comment by Rodney Roe on November 14, 2018 at 7:14am

Happy Hump Day.

Comment by koshersalaami on November 14, 2018 at 8:18am

Now that’s likely to be a pretty short-lived expression

Far out

Comment by Ron Powell on November 14, 2018 at 9:00am


Comment by Rosigami on November 14, 2018 at 9:02am

This was fun to read. 
I am in the middle of grading supposedly college-level research papers and I'm just appalled at how badly written most of them are. In the 8 years since I began teaching at the college, I have even seen a decline from then until now, from "poor" to "abysmal". It terrifies me to realize what little many of our high school graduates actually know about writing- or anything else. 

Comment by Ron Powell on November 14, 2018 at 9:58am

@Rosi; AMEN!!!

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on November 14, 2018 at 11:13am


Comment by Rodney Roe on November 14, 2018 at 11:24am

A search for “Why Iohnny can’t write” reveals that someone else has written the book.

i don’t think awe have to read it to know why. The authors blame it on a technique called the “process”.

Comment by Rosigami on November 14, 2018 at 11:33am

@Ron, !!!!!

Rodney, "the process" is terrible. I also believe that many people, especially the generations that follow ours (though folks my age are not immune), use "text-speak" instead of good writing. It seems adequate for phone communication but it has spilled into the mainstream. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on November 14, 2018 at 12:55pm

@ rosigami, OMG U R sew rite. (fifteen unrelated emojis/emoticons go here)

Comment by Rodney Roe on November 14, 2018 at 1:37pm

I'm thinking that the average high school graduate wouldn't know the difference between a gerund and a gerbil.  (But, I'm not sure that I could still diagram that sentence.)


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