And now for something completely different. The extinction of words. When I was a lad, as they say, the English language was much richer in some respects. I am well aware that there are now far more words in the language, but there are also losses. By the time I got to school, the past tense of show was no longer shewn, though it still occurred in some of the books I read (G B Shaw if I recall rightly) but there were still conductresses on the tram I used to get to my music lesson aged six. And on the buses I used to get to South Kensington to go to the Natural History Museum, aged nine (and how many parents allow their 9 year old kids to set off on an hour’s bus journey with a friend to go to the museums these days — but that’s another story). Less than a decade later I started getting involved with natural history societies, and although largely male dominated, some of them had a Chairwoman, instead of a Chairman. But none had a Chairperson. Chairs were mostly in universities, and generally things that were sat on. And when I went to the cinema or theatre, there were actresses as well as actors. Now we all have heroes, but heroines are almost extinct, unless one is reading old literature, and I feel this is a diminution of our language. And it is also sexist, though some will argue the opposite. Why should women have to be lumped with the men and the neuters? Why can they not retain their femininity? For a long time I tried writing to the Editrix or Editress of BBC Wildlife magazine, but have admitted defeat; she is now an ‘editor’. And while we are on the subject the -en plural is almost gone. I cannot honestly remember any one referring to rooves as rooven, or hoofs as hooven. But at least ox and oxen survive, even if kine are now longer plural cows. And the mighty aurochs, though sometime seen as a plural is still usually correctly puralised as aurochsen.
Most of us pedants have long given up on phrases such as decimate, and admitted defeat, but what are my other pedantic friends annoyed about, in terms of linguistic loss?