How to Erase the Dictionary, and Whether You Really Should

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Erase the dictionary, one word per day.

Concerning this Task I was recently asked: “with which words to start, with which end?” Helpful as ever, I now reply.

Why not begin by launching an attack on the words you most loathe? My first blow would probably fall on those coined by philosophers, which, I imagine, it would afford me deep satisfaction to strike down, since they are usually as offensive to the intellect as they are to the ear.

Having made short work of those monstrous creations of misguided genius, I would then proceed to turn the avenging sword of my eraser on the new words–or should I say non-words–which the internet revolution has vomited up before our astonished good taste in such enormous quantities. You know the ones I mean: they are too commonly used, and too repellent, to escape notice. They are the words which have corrupted our vocabularies, defiled our everyday speech, infested and enfeebled our already neglectful and enervated minds, in short, they are the words which have led us phrase-mangling moderns into a sort of linguistic wasteland located at the antipodes of the eloquence which our classical predecessors esteemed, trained to perfect, practised on all  significant occasions, and, through a rigorous and carefully designed pedagogical method, made a concerted effort to preserve and transmit to the future, with what success you can now see.

At this juncture you will perhaps interrupt me to ask whether these words I have just proscribed and marked out for destruction are actually included in today’s standard dictionaries. Exactly how much of this philosophical flimflam and internet gobbledygook has been allowed to pollute the pages of these books which, rightly or wrongly, we regard as authoritative guides and consult as unquestioningly as abject slaves? I confess I don’t know, because I haven’t looked; and because I am too afraid to find out, I must remain ignorant.

Nevertheless if after numerous clandestine conferences an agreement was reached by our most esteemed committees of word collection to countenance these violent twistings and savage maulings of the language we use it points to a conspiracy to commit lexical crime and therefore I propose that banishing these words from the pages which their mere presence maims is tantamount to ensuring that justice is served.

Of course this constitutes no more than an initial phase: countless words exist which are ripe for erasure; I’ve barely scratched the surface of verbal felony. But don’t follow my loathing or even allow it to influence you. Follow your own, wherever it may lead. Has it ever steered you wrong?

(No sooner have I expressed these ideas than scruples arise, doubts creep in . . .  Doesn’t the misbegotten have its own beauty, more striking and exhilarating, perhaps, than that in whose direction we are domineeringly thrust by the so-called classical ideal? Are not the grotesque creatures in which nature abounds in many ways the most charming, the most captivating? Are there not spontaneous abortions more perfect than any masterpiece?

Perhaps we should not erase the dictionary after all. Maybe, in fact, we should study to admire the most unmellifluous words it contains, intentionally cultivate and propagate them, discover their secret allure . . . I sense that a new Task is trying to be born!)