Ah, the irony of it all. The past few days have seen a deluge of posts on a Facebook group’s site populated by Australian authors. The focus of their attention has been a single word: zephyr. A writer who had penned the line a zephyr of wind caressed the land was asking if there could be a zephyr of anything but wind.
The response was enormous. Much of it was repetitive (why do FB posters feel compelled to say what has already been said?) The rest varied from the wryly humorous (“I thought a zephyr was a car”) to the sadly revelatory from those claiming to be writers (“I’ve never heard the word”). In between were some direct answers to the question posed, plus a variety of suggestions on rephrasing and even re-voicing.
Most interesting of all were the posts that variously suggested the word is archaic, strange, unknown or has no place in modern usage because, as one person stated, it is not used by the majority of people in normal conversation. All of which suggests we should revert to a Dr Seuss level of writing with the cat in the hat sat on the mat and never indulge in multisyllabic words or anything that needs looking up in a dictionary.
Let’s not use big words; they are too confusing for our increasingly under-educated fellow beings. And let’s not resurrect words from the noble lineage of the English language, where meanings ebb and flow down the centuries. Why enrich and add variety to our prose when we can reduce it to the lowest level? I know not of a zephyr, hence I will not use it – or even take the trouble to improve my knowledge by seeking its definition.
The irony I referred to is that this week also saw the online resource OxfordDictionaries.com announce its latest additions, which includes such neologisms (go on, look it up) as humblebragging, neckbeards, binge-watch and clickbait, listicle and side boob, all of which I have so far had no occasion to use. However, if needed and appropriate, they could well eventually make an appearance. I will not demur simply because they may not be known to some readers.
Oxford Dictionaries adds more than 1000 new words each year, which is proof enough that our language neither stands still nor remains rooted in past definitions.
A zephyr of change constantly caresses our language. Totally amazeballs, in fact.