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Dictionary Daily: Ken

This should have never been called “dictionary daily”–since my initial post about a word, I’m pretty sure I never did another. Anyway, I watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory and Sheldon tells Penny that she is “meddling with forces beyond her ken.” This line triggered something in my mind and brought to mind Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In that poem, the word “ken” is used here: “And through the drifts the snowy clifts/Did send a dismal sheen:/Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken -/ The ice was all between.” I love that section of the poem because Coleridge uses words that then might have been in use, but now are almost completely archaic. I see that a pattern having to do with my fascination involving archaic words. For those of you who do not know, the word “ken” is an archaic form of the word “knowledge” or “to know.” The use of this word is pretty versatile, as it functions as both a verb and noun.

Though I’ve already done one of these on another archaic word, I still find myself inspired to do another one, so it seems as if I’m drawn to this idea of the archaic word for more reasons than I can fathom. I can’t really hardly dredge up even one reason, so I put it to the analytical side of my brain. The idea that there are words that have now become archaic indicates that there were words more preferable to the ones that became outmoded and in this way we learned to picked and choose which words suited our ears best. Unless I’m missing some historical/anthropological link between this word and its origins that might explain its archaic nature, I’m just going to have to go with that. And since there seem to be words that were discarded by English-speaking peoples, I am forced to wonder if there are words we can bring back (cue the racism scene from Clerks 2)–could we somehow finds ways to resurrect words that have been trashed, is there a necessity to this, an inherent logic in making sure that no piece of our language get left behind? Maybe the idea that even a single piece of our language can become dead (or an entire language for that matter) is what really scares me the most and brings me to seek out these lonely words and reintroduce them to our lexicon. Cormac McCarthy does just that in Blood Meridian, using tons of archaic words and does amazing work with them, showing that even though words have been discarded, they will never lack their use if we have the desire to put them to it.

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