Do you ever have the feeling that people today don’t know as many words as they used to? Have you noticed that we don’t seem to communicate as easily and fluently as people did in the past?
It’s not your imagination. Because of the popularity of electronic devices, today it is often easier to type messages other people than to speak to them. We email our bosses instead of picking up the phone and calling them. We text plans for the weekend to our friends. We message each other on Facebook. We tweet our thoughts in 140 characters or less and include hashtags to save everyone the trouble of figuring out what we’re talking about. And many times, our messages include emojis to show emotions or actions we just don’t feel like spelling out longhand.
We’ve even developed a growing list of acronyms to use for common phrases. LOL has been used to the point of losing its effectiveness, but there are other acronyms we have come to recognize and dash off whenever the mood hits: AFAIK, IMHO, SWAK, LMBO, etc.
Just a few out of hundreds out there!
I recently read an article that talked about the effect of all these electronic devices on our vocabularies. The conclusion: it’s not good. When people stop talking and start writing in emojis and acronyms instead, they miss out on words that express subtlety and shades of meaning. They stop writing out complete sentences, and they lose the ability to comprehend lengthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs.
My little blog won’t be able to stop this slide into linguistic inanity. Changes in language reflect changes in culture, and electronic devices are here to stay. But I can at least highlight unusual or obsolete words in our English language and encourage some people, at least, to grow their vocabulary, not let it be dumbed down over time. To do this, we’ll be looking at a new word every month.
The first word I’d like to look at is one that passed out of general usage in English quite some time ago.
Martin lucubrated over his homework until his eyes were too tired to continue.
Like so many of our English words, lucubrate has its origin in Latin. The word “luc” meant light, and “lucubrate” came to mean studying at night, especially studying hard. (“Luc” is also the root word for lucid, elucidate, and transluscent, all of which have to do with light, being able to see through, and being clear or easy to understand.)
Over time the word lucubrate evolved in meaning. After all, if you study at night, you have to be able to see at least a little bit, so lucubrate acquired a secondary meaning of studying or writing by candlelight.
Abraham Lincoln is famous for his habits of lucubration.
And if you continued to lucubrate you would increase your understanding of whatever it was you were studying, improving and expanding on the ideas in it.
The science professor accepted the new theory after much lucubration.
Finally, lucubrate came to mean to clarify the meaning of something and write about it in a scholarly way.
Stephen Hawkings lucubrates the “theory of everything” in his book, The Universe In A Nutshell.
I think you’ll agree that lucubrate is an excellent word to know, full of meaning and history. Sadly, it is now considered an obsolete word in the English language. Let’s hope we can find a way to bring it and other disappearing words back into people’s spoken vocabularies.
Please be sure to let me know if there is a word you would like to see profiled in this new feature! I look forward to hearing from you.