A few old words worth rescuing
English is a sort of free-for-all in which well-tempered words persist.
—A friend recently sent me an article about English words that have, for one reason or other, fallen out of use. I was immediately captivated. It struck me that many of them could be dusted off and readied for renewed service.
Take apricity. It refers to the warmth of the sun in winter. As I sit here and write, it is snowing, and I am huddled by a wood stove, while outside, icicles hang in front of the window like a portcullis, giving me the sense of being imprisoned. How I long for apricity!
Then there is a word that sounds almost too good to be true: deliciate, which means – what else? – to enjoy oneself. I admit that it does sound like a word a child just learning English would make up. But isn’t it perfect? Consider the many ways we deliciate: eating tasty food, having travel adventures, lying in the warm sun (apricity!), reading a good book. To say that one has “enjoyed” some experience sounds lukewarm when compared to the rich texture of “deliciate.” (“My dear lady, I not only enjoyed your meal, I deliciated in it!”)
And why, oh why, did we ever let frigorific get away? I live in Maine and have frequent need of such a word. It means “chilling” or “causing cold.” Just this morning, upon going out for the paper, I confronted a frigorific wind that drove me back indoors. Detractors might point out that we have the word “frigid” to describe such an experience. But I prefer something with more oomph. “Frigorific” tells anyone within earshot not only that the wind is cold, but that I am man enough to take it. “Anton!” I shout to my son as I slam the door against the elements. “Don’t go out there! That wind is fri-go-ri-fic!” If that doesn’t stop him in his tracks, then nothing short of physical restraint will.
A personal favorite among these forgotten words is fudgel, which means “pretending to work.” As a teacher, I can make great, and frequent, use of this wonderful word. “Susan, you say you’re trying hard, but let’s face it, you’ve been fudgeling.”
This would seem, to me, to be the last word, for how could a student mount a legitimate defense against such a pointed accusation?
And how much energy would it take to convince someone that jirble was once on active duty in the English language? It means “to pour carelessly.” “Oh, Billy, look at the mess you made. That’s the second time today you jirbled!” The risk here is that such an admonition would not be taken seriously, and the child would deliberately jirble just for the sake of hearing the parent utter those playful syllables again.
All of these words bear witness to the vitality and acquisitiveness of English. Is there another tongue as diverse in its vocabulary, or as willing to usher neglected words to the exits? I am mindful of the French Academy, charged with maintaining the purity of the French language lest foreign words and phrases sneak in. English, by contrast, welcomes all comers in a sort of free-for-all that sees well-tempered words persist and neglected ones fall by the wayside.
But why, I ask, did we neglect something as poetic as snow-broth – newly melted snow? Who’s responsible for disposing of such a gem? I could make use of it right now, as winter finally sputters out and the creeping warmth of a higher and more persistent sun liquefies the ice in my driveway.
Such is the effect of apricity, which allows me to deliciate in the waning of frigorific weather. While others prefer to make hay while the sun shines, I would rather fudgel while the snow-broth gathers.
All of this may sound ludibrious (ridiculous) to you, but to me it makes perfect sense.