Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats

502                The Loom of Language
Therefore it is a doubtful advantage to cut out single names for
or processes to which we constantly refer On the other hand, we can
clearly dispense with separate names for an immense number of things
and processes to which we do not continually refer, and the process of
definition, when context calls for closer definition., need not be as
wordy as the idiom of English or other Aryan languages often pre-
scribes Even within the framework of acceptable Anglo-American we
can substitute apple-dnnk for cider and breast-support for brassiere
without committing an offence against usage Making compounds of
this sort is not the same as exact definition, but definition need never
be more fastidious than context requires From a purely pedantic
point of view lime water might stand for the water we sprinkle on
the soil for the benefit of lime trees, but it is precise enough in any real
context in which it might occur
In general the combination of a generic name with another word as
in lime water suffices to specify a particular object or process in a way
which is easy to recall because sufficiently suggestive. Here English
usage provides some instructive models Ordinarily a house is a private
residence, the sort of building to which we refer most often, but it is
also the generic basis of alehouse, playhouse, greenhouse, poorhouse, bake-
house While it may be as difficult to construct a definition of a theatre
as to learn a separate word for it, it is not easier to learn a new word
than to recall a compound as explicit as playhouse, in which both
elements are items of an essential vocabulary Another model for the
use of such generic words is the series handwear, footwear, neckwear,
headwear Clearly, we could reduce the size of our essential vocabulary
by adopting the principle of using such generic terms as -house, -wear,
-man, -land, for other classes such as vessels, fabrics, filaments. With
each generic term we could then learn sufficiently suggestive couplets
such as postman, highland, or handwear for use when context calls for
additional information Economical compounding of this sort involves
two principles First, the components must be elements of the basic
minimum of essential words Second, the juxtaposition of parts must
sufficiently indicate the meaning. We cannot let metaphor have a free
hand to prescribe such combinations as monkey nut, rubber neck, or
waffle bottom
How much licence we allow to metaphor in other directions is a
matter of particular interest in relation to the merits and defects of
Basic English There is no hard-and-fast line between metaphorical
usage as in elastic demand and generic names such as elastic for rubber,