24 July 2009

Recapturing Language

Some words in the English language have fallen out of fashion; we don’t use them in our daily speech very often. When I hear someone say a rarely-used word, I feel like an old friend has dropped in, right out of the blue, for an impromptu visit. Last weekend, my girlfriend offhandedly included the word ‘nuisance’ in a casual remark. Instantaneously, I traveled back in time to my childhood and heard the sound of my grandmother’s voice. Nuisance was a word that she used commonly, particularly when referring to the family cat. In fact, regardless of the cat’s given name, she called it Nuisance instead. No one ever says nuisance these days.

Becoming is another lovely word that I miss. My favorite recollection of the word ‘becoming’ in speech was in the film “Three Days of the Condor.” Remember? In a prophecy, the assassin warns our hero that he will meet the villain in the guise of a friend: “…And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car…”

When I was a young girl, I recall that my mother often used the word becoming to describe appearance. So I associate a becoming look with ‘pretty’ and ‘grown up.’ No one ever says becoming like this anymore. Even though I am grown up myself, it still seems to me that telling someone that their dress looks very becoming is a far more meaningful compliment than simply telling them that they look nice.

Language is a beautiful, living organism. Recapturing the old-fashioned words that we treasure and resolving to keep them alive in our speech and writing is a wonderful way to pay tribute to language itself.

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