Thursday, 1 September 2011

Phantom Words / Needed Words

I have recently pursued a modest etymological quest to determine whether other languages can trounce English in certain moods.

I'm sketching out an article on 'phantom words', which is intended to touch upon the principles of those Society for Pure English tracts I've filed somewhere in my attic (I'm sure I have a copy of 'Needed Words', SPE Tract No. XXXI, 1928).

Annoyingly, I've stumbled at the first hurdle in my search for a much needed word for a small fishing village (marine or riverine). As I see it there isn't one; which demonstrates the paucity of the English lexicon. My proposal of portlet doesn't satisfy this want, I agree. (That is, I am not sure this word to denote a smaller or lesser kind of port, following the pattern of booklet, starlet, etc., conveys the proper sense, since, OK, portlet is a familiar computing term.) So the problem remains.  Unless, one accepts 'haven' as a sort of hamlet-sized settlement. Maybe a more pictorial word exists in another language. 'Fishing village' always strikes me as a desperately banal construction, like 'cooking pot'. (And wharf or quay suggest structures rather than a settlement.)

Another phantom word that also demonstrates the English language to be wanting is a label for that particular cobwebby flake-like ember that floats on air currents above a bonfire. It's not ash or a cinder or exactly a smut. It could be a 'floater', like those shadows on the retina. Now this floating ember is a quite specific phenomenon, yet the word for it has floated out of my reach ... and it's a minor frustration that, if unresolved, could lead to an unhealthy degree of obsessiveness.

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