English Words and Their Background

By George H. McKnight | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
TECHNICAL WORDS

The well-ordered precincts of standard speech, as has been indicated, are adjoined on different sides by speech districts less reduced to formal cultivation. In one direction cultivated speech merges almost imperceptibly into the fertile area of dialect richly productive of fresh native elements in speech. On another side its boundaries intersect those of the playground of language, the field of slang. In quite a different direction it spreads out almost interminably into an industrial district, the district formed by an ever expanding technical vocabulary. Like the industrial district of a great community, the technical vocabulary has absorbed foreign elements in enormous numbers. Like the industrial districts, also, its external appearance is marked by creations imposing in character, surrounded by vast stretches of the tawdry and the squalid. Less rich in appeal to feeling than the artless products of the native dialects, technical words, of varied source and often clumsy workmanship, form by far the largest element in the growth of the vocabulary, and in the history of the language have contributed most largely to the expansion in expressive power which distinguishes cultivated language from uncultivated modes of speech.

A casual inspection of a few pages of any large dictionary will suffice to convey an impression of the range and, at the same time, the minuteness of expression made possible by means of technical terms. It is also likely to leave a humiliating impression regarding the range of one's personal vocabulary. A recognition of the meaning of any large proportion of technical words and phrases belongs to

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