I taught college English for 24 years, and I still search newspapers and blogs for signs of the Beast, which, these days, attacks us mostly through language—errors of agreement, misplaced modifiers, and non sequiturs. That’s how you tear down a civilization.
While I was never a linguistics scholar, I have nonetheless followed its meandering course with interest—its relativistic philosophical trappings and its insistence that contemporary usage must be the only norm for evaluating the spoken and written word. Thus, all language is equal—a subversive proposition defended by the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
True linguists love neologisms—i.e., new words, most of which have cropped up to denote the appearance of new objects: google, blog, bytes, black hole. The learned journals are filled with discussions of such words, if only because they are proof of change.
However, linguists are less inclined to make lists of obsolete words—in many cases nouns that once denoted phenomena no longer in existence. Take, for example, a liripoop, which once adorned a graduate’s hood. The liripoop would hang down the back when the hood was off and would be wrapped around the graduate’s head when the hood was worn. So a liripoop was not the same thing as a tassel, and at some point, when it disappeared from commencement exercises, so did...