I am beginning this topic of vanishing vocabulary because, in nearly 7 decades of listening and reading words, I have seen many words change, or just leave the party with no farewell. There is also the added excitement of joining the community up here in cyberspace and seeing constantly what I noticed, now and then, in my travels, the amazing differences in English around the world.
When I made a book trailer for the Sefuty Chronicles, at the end of last year and posted it on my blog, for readers to comment, I was astonished at how so many had misunderstood one word in the blurb for one of the books. The confusion caused by this one word puzzled me, and set me on a very small quest to find out, if I could, whether it was a nationality thing or a generational one.
Of course I should not have been astonished. For goodness sake, I am old enough to know language changes. Indeed I have heard not only my parents but my grandparents stand on their soap boxes, declaiming the demise of the English tongue: have enjoyed heckling them as diehards. ‘Latin is unchanging.’ I would say. ‘That is why it is called a dead language!; our glorious tongue-‘ I was much given to histrionics when young! – ‘is vibrantly alive, it changes like quicksilver; loosen up.’ I said. So sure I was in there on the cutting edge of change – happy to leave fuddy duddy mustiness behind.
Well, of course, I am now their age and find my English changed beyond belief, (I am supposed to use tremendously here, instead of beyond belief, if I respect Microsoft spell check!) and I mostly revel in all the new words, the excitement of the new has never really left, but, some losses I do mourn, I posted on one the other day. But this word, I had never expected. I should have done, the world it belongs to is fast vanishing and so the relevance to the young is also vanishing. I need the word for it precise specificness.
I wrote. . . love and friendship founder. Okay maybe not the best grammar around – hey it was a blurb! Stumbled then was the word, as readers wondered what it meant in that context.
I looked it up to check. There are various meanings to the word FOUNDER
1) One meaning, the one, which most of my readers picked, was as the original builder of anything, therefore; an institution, a group, business, a family line – the person who establishes
2) Then there is a person who casts metals. I haven’t heard this meaning used much in everyday parlance, but was aware of it.
3) Then to founder meaning to knock to the ground, cause to fall from such as fatigue or shock,
to cause a ship to fill with water and sink,
a structure to collapse or give way,
a plan, hope, relationship to come to grief
This last meaning of the word was commonplace as I was growing up. In my youth ships did still founder, with depressing regularity, the Second World War where thousands had gone down had just finished, my grandmothers lived with us and their personal history was littered with shipwrecks, merchant seamen in every generation it seems!
The stories I grew up with, real or fiction, often had ships foundering, the poetry I learnt at school was full of wrecks and drowned seamen. Founder was one of my words, as unchangeable as the rocks that caused it. Actually, of course, even rocks vanish into sand in time!
In Jack’s Tale love and friendships were threatened by the sharp realities of war. The very core (the backbone of a ship) of relationships threatened to break asunder (is asunder still used I wonder?) to break apart (in case it isn’t:) under the strain. I needed foundered. I needed to rewrite the sentence.
It seems to be more of a generational problem; a higher proportion of readers and friends understood it from my generation than those younger. Is founder going to be one of my vanishing words? I do hope not but. . .