Pat tells me that it’s our blogiversary.  Who knew we had a word for that?  Did I spell it correctly?

English is a living language and like all living languages new words happen all the time.  Sometimes the new words are necessary to keep up with technology, sometimes with social trends and sometimes just because we seem to be tired of the old words.

My friends grow tired of having me inform them multiple times about the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year.  In case you haven’t heard a few recent entries include locavore, hypermiling, and last year’s incredibly ugly unfriend.

Genealogists have a special relationship to words.  We often need to understand common words in a new way and to learn older meanings for common words.

I have, of course, a few modest examples.

Markers.  For many of us markers are what cause you to repaint the wall after your children or grandchildren have redecorated the house with them.  For genealogists markers are found in cemeteries and are often called tombstones.  Now markers are found on chromosomes and will tell you about your relationship to distant family.

Fireman.  A common word for the men (of course, now women also) who come and save our homes and sometimes our lives.  When I first started doing genealogy I was surprised to find many firemen in my husband’s family.  When I asked my mother-in-law about this she looked at me as if wondering why her son had married an idiot and said, “They worked for the railroad.”  Of course, they worked for the railroad.  They shoveled coal into the engines to keep the train running.  Railroads still have firemen; they do something with engines, no shoveling involved.

While we’re talking about employment, I think only genealogists and historians recognize cobbler, collier, amanuensis, or wheelwright.

Genealogists have different meanings for lots of common words like collateral and line and of course, tree.

And what of the words we find on death certificates?  You can chart the history of Western medicine just by looking at the change in entries for the cause of death over the years.  No one dies of consumption anymore.  That disease is now called tuberculosis after the bacteria that causes it.  Happily it is usually treatable and rarely a cause of death.  La grippe is now influenza, ague is malaria, and camp fever is typhoid.  Remember Pat’s personal favorite, apoplexy?  Now it is known as stroke.  Pat is fond of pointing out obituaries in which people die of apoplexy at the table after consuming a joint of beef, several chickens, a bit of sausage, bread with a half pound of butter, and a cobbler accompanied by a pint of cream.  It is good that childbed fever and polio are rarely causes of death in this country anymore; sad that we have HIV and MRSA to replace them.

I love words and I could go on and on, but it’s time to stop, cease, halt, quit, lay off, put a sock in it…you get the idea.

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