Pariah Words


“For last year's words belong to last year's language

And next year's words await another voice.”

                                   T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


In 100 years there will be all new people. In 1,000 years there will be all new words.

I guarantee it.

New words come into the language all the time. This is how languages evolve.

Many new words these days are drawn from new technologies.

Merriam-Webster recently added about 1,700 words to the dictionary in response to the Internet's linguistic onslaught. Last month the Oxford English Dictionary added 500. For example:

meme . . . hashtagemoji . . . clickbait . . . sext . . . retweet . . . selfie

Of course, many other new, non-technical words are making their way into the dictionary as well:

jegging . . . crema . . . vape . . . photobomb . . .  totes . . . staycation

Not so much noticed are other words that are passing out of use.

Perhaps for the first time, our social and cultural mores are making it mandatory to retire some words. They are considered code for political incorrectness, racial or ethnic or gender bigotry, etc.

  • The verb die, for example, is giving way to the more agreeable pass
  • Thug has become a verboten, racially loaded noun
  • Publications like The New Yorker feel free to print the “F-word” but not the “N-word”

These are what I call pariah words.

Here are some more, and you can add your own to the list:

virgin . . . perverted . . . sin . . . queer . . . abnormal . . . handicapped . . . vain . . . disabled . . . blind . . . retard . . .race

Wait a minute. Did I include race as a pariah word?

The problem with using the word race is that many Americans don’t know what it means.

The U. S. Census Bureau said in a 2013 report that some people think the word means the same thing as origin. Others see race as meaning skin color, ancestry or culture—origin  as the nation or place where they or their parents were born. The Bureau writes:

We recognize that race and ethnicity are not quantifiable values. Rather, identity is a complex mix of one’s family and social environment, historical or socio-political constructs, personal experience, context, and many other immeasurable factors.


There’s no use complaining about the way the English language is being dumbed down by people who don’t know the difference between race and origin or lie and lay.

The language will change whether we like it or not. Like gravity, it’s the law.

For a demonstration of how much English has changed during the past 1,000 years, click over to this video of the Lord’s Prayer recited in 11th century English:

In my next blog, “This Isn’t Kansas, Toto”


Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • John Roman
    commented 2015-07-20 09:47:57 -0400
    Usage and necessity both drive change and longevity.
    Platt Deutsch (low German) is very much like old English, with word roots remaining in both contemporary English and Hoch Deutsch (High German.)
    It is commonly spoken in northern maritime Germany.
    Platt "Ma gwa hwam.’
    Hoch “Ich gae tsu hause.”
    Eng. “I’m going home.”
    Nominal and pronominal cases still confuse Germans today, as evidenced by the axiom “mir und mich ferwexel ich.” (I confuse me and myself.)
    The verb ‘go’ retains its essence.
    House and home do as well, despite confusion in the idiom ‘tsu hause,’ whichtransliterates as ‘at home.’