Ereptation, and other forgotten words

On Friday evening I went along to an art exhibition opening with my artist friend Joanne at the arts complex in Edinburgh. The theme was exploring collage. I thought this piece was really interesting. The artist Eleanor Symms calls it  ’ereptation, n.obs.a creeping forth‘ and explains:

This work forms part of an exploration of obselete language and old dictionaries. Ereptation is one of the many words in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of 1755* that are no longer in use. The visual imagery suggested to me by this archaic noun resonates with the process of making and mark making.

*Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, published in London by Richard Bentley on the 15th April 1755.

The exhibition included another piece (pictured below, made with paper and words) that felt more dynamic, which brought the word to life. My pic isn’t good but in real life it looks as though the thing is slowly creeping off its podium, even though it is static.

A diminished vocabulary is one of the sadnesses of the modern age. Forgotten words capture a nuance and are helpfully specific in their meaning, as well as being innately beautiful. Ereptation is no less relevant in 2012 than 1755. It’s a loss that it’s no longer in use. (However, I couldn’t use it in copy – unless addressing people who know older English – as no-one would know what it means; copy needs to communicate clearly.)

Although, looking at it differently, is this loss sad? Language is in a constant state of flux, expanding with our experiences, re-inventing itself. A small example: my battered old Collins Dictionary, published in 1998, defines Wireless as:

n,vb,Chiefly British, old-fashioned, another word for radio.

Look how fast things have changed.

One of the aspects of copywriting I enjoy very much is the process of parachuting into a community with its own subset of language – whisky-lovers, arts students, engineers, bankers etc. I have a Dr Spock mind-meld and then write the copy using their language with assumed levels of meaning etc, depending on the specific target audience and client objectives etc. So I think English is fabulously rich.

English has always been a confluence of many different influences. The current shifts and changes, mutations, losses and additions, remain in this tradition.

Perhaps Dr Johnson wouldn’t mind the state of English today. 



By Liz Holt