How language is in our very nature
Our history of working with the land has given our language a rich range of words and expressions
Posted on: 26th March 2013
When you come into close contact with nature you are often struck by the appearances of things. Before I started a smallholding, for example, I had no idea how enormous the eyelashes of Jersey calves were – or how goat kids are among the most beautiful of all baby animals.
My experience of developing a smallholding also made me think about how we use language to describe the appearances and sensations we encounter. Occasionally, a word simply feels the right one to use. For example, the only word I could think of to use to describe the small heads of our calves Angus and Ogilvy when the horn buds were just beginning to grow as they developed into bullocks was “nubbly”.
As it turns out, this word is listed in the dictionary – but even if it wasn’t, it would still have been the right one.
There was another experience at the ridge which really brought home the meaning of a word to me. It was when I awoke one moonlit night, looked out of the window to investigate the noise I could hear outside, and saw our goats Snowy and Fancy playing around. They had escaped from their stall and were running back and forth, occasionally leaping into the air with an elegant twist. That was when I fully understood the meaning of the word ‘capering’ – which comes from the Latin word for goat.
Closer to nature
That is an indication of how close older societies were to nature. I am sure that there are hundreds of other words and phrases that arise through humanity’s interest in farming and working with the land. They are a powerful illustration that language is not something that is either fixed or abstract. It is bound up with the way we live our lives, and that is why it is constantly evolving.
The digital world may now be the largest factor that contributes to the development of our language. Habits such as text message abbreviations and ‘emoticons’ are changing the way we communicate. The internet has also has also given us plenty of new words, like “googling” and “crowdfunding”. But will it provide us with words as rich, as evocative and enjoyable as our long history of working with the land has done?