Monday, December 07, 2009

Oldspeak

Some words are fading out of the English language that really ought to be kept. A lot of the new words we are used to using, or the new meanings of old words, have nothing to do with The Real and one of the charming aspects of pre-20th century English is that it usually insists that words, the phonemes we make with our various pieces of equippment, actually correspond to something real.

Here is one I like:

League.

Tolkien uses it all through his big book, usually describing the distance the Nine Walkers walked through Middle Earth on their quest with that term. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, ran the tremendous distance from the Falls of Rauros to Fanghorn forest in pursuit of Merry and Pippin, and he measured it in leagues.

A league is a deeply Real, and very practical, unit of measurement that was originally Celtic, and was the distance a person could walk in one hour. It was about three miles.

Words should always mean real things. Whenever you read something, an article about politics, a book of literary criticism, philosophy, a speech, anything at all, ask the question, what Real Thing does this pertain to?

Only Real Things count.