Pop Culture

Website Helps Rescue Obscure Words

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The website savethewords.org offers the chance to bring arcane words back to life. Web surfers can "adopt" a word like "historiaster," which means "contemptible historian," or obarmate, which means "to arm against." By adopting the word, people pledge to use it in everyday speech and writing. The site has attracted media attention from around the world. Upon investigation, it turns out to be the project of an advertising agency. The office of Young and Rubicam in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, was hired to promote the print version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Robert Siegel tells us about it, and we hear from Y&R creative director Edward Ong, who helped create the site, and has been astounded at its worldwide appeal.

Unidentified People: Me, me...


This is what you hear at the website savethewords.org.

Unidentified People: Pick me. Hello.

SIEGEL: Roll your cursor over the home page, and you will one voice after another imploring you.

Unidentified People: Choose me. No, pick me.

SIEGEL: The homepage is a patchwork of signs and labels, each one displaying a single word and not just any word: obscure words, words in such disuse that they have been bounced from the dictionaries.

Maybe that's because we don't need a word anymore for having the qualities of a gentleman which is, of course, squiriferous; or having the qualities of shrub, frutescent. Or maybe it's just that in making way for new words like blog and bromance, staycation, and chillax, we use up the lexicological shelf space that used to accommodate words like assectation, following something else; or drollic, which describes puppet shows.

These old, endangered words, and there are dozens like them, are on the savethewords.org website, where they are available for adoption. You sign up for a word, and you promise to use it in conversation and correspondence as frequently as possible.

Edward Ong is one of the people behind this. Mr. Ong is a Creative Director at Young and Rubicam Advertising Agency in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Y and R designed the ad campaign for the print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary for Malaysia and Singapore. We quaeritated him earlier about his motives.

Mr. EDWARD ONG (Creative Director Young and Rubicam Advertising Agency): One of the problems we were facing is that many people prefer to use the online dictionary. So we thought: Why not get them to cultivate a love for words and then push them back to the physical dictionary that they were using?

SIEGEL: Yes, he's in it for the money. He's a philargyrist. And it turned out that the very success of the website was absolutely pudifying.

Mr. ONG: The next thing we knew, the site kept crashing, and we wondering: What in the world? We found that a lot of people have adopted it, a lot of bloggers have used it, a lot of people are talking about it.

SIEGEL: Proof that words that may not be common, but aren't vappous either, just might prove plebicolar in the end.

Unidentified People: Hello. Yo, pick me. Me, me. Yo.

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