Every year, researchers at Merriam-Webster pick about 100 words and phrases to add to the English dictionary. This year, the phrase 'aha moment'--made popular by Oprah Winfrey on her daytime talk show--was among the additions. This took me off guard a bit, but more importantly it got me thinking about the origin and development of the English language.
Now, you would think that, as a writer, a wheeler and dealer in words, Etymology would be part of my tool box, but the truth is that I had to look up the word to confirm the spelling (ashamed face). I realised that I have no idea how the English vocabulary has developed and how certain key words came into being.
With elections in the air, in the US, in Ghana and elsewhere, words like 'Freedom', 'Justice', and 'Independence', came to my mind as words describing concepts that make a difference in our lives. I tried to imagine the first time the word 'independent' was used.
I pictured a caveman crouching at the front of his cave watching a cave-woman walk away from him upright. Obviously exasperated, he remarks to another crouching caveman nearby.
"That woman so ...."
Caveman 1 searches for the right word and caveman 2 fills in "Independent?"
It turns out the first known use of the word 'independent' was between 1605 and 1650, so that scenario probably did not quite play out. It did however underscored the importance of a language that grows to encompass new concepts, attitudes and inventions. In Ghana, the local languages are littered with English words to describe recent developments like computers, email and mobile phones and so on. I may be wrong, but it seems that these languages are not adapting and growing and as a result may become obsolete and die.
The next time I'm searching for just the right word to create the image in my mind, I will probably give a quick thought to the person who included it into our everyday lingo.