Opinion Mary Kenny

Friday 19 October 2018

Curfuggled by Slurvian?

English, the great mongrel tongue, discards as many words as it embraces

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

There are 24 official languages in the European Union, but only three working tongues: French, English and German. It had been suggested that after Britain quits the EU, English might lose its official status. (Ireland and Malta, though English-speaking, don't claim English as their official language.)

Yet a linguistic academic working in Sweden, Dr Marko Modiano, has predicted that English will be more widely used in the EU after Brexit: with Britain gone, English will become the politically neutral lingua franca of the EU. It will just be 'Euro English', evolving into a mixture of Continental European idioms, with possibly more American spellings and usage.

James Joyce would have approved. He always loved the elasticity of English, and used it brilliantly for his own surreal vocabulary. Joyce's neologisms are "too idiosyncratic" to have passed into the language, according to Paul Anthony Jones, a noted collector of English words which have come and gone over the centuries, though Samuel Beckett's word coinages have done better: he brought us 'pugnozzle' (to move your nose and lips like a pug dog), 'vermigrade' (like a worm) and 'wantum' (a quantifiable deficiency of desire).

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