World O’ Words: The long, long, long, long Latinates

A weekly look at peculiarities and developments in the language

Latinates are words derived from, or imitating Latin. They tend to be longer than Anglo-Saxon derived words, thus more difficult to fit into newspaper headlines.

Latinates are words derived from, or imitating Latin. They tend to be longer than Anglo-Saxon derived words, thus more difficult to fit into newspaper headlines.

Those words derived from Latin make headline writing difficult.

The damned Latinates … George Orwell in “1984” gave Newspeak a bad name, but maybe it’s time to revisit it — that ur-language of the totalitarian oppressor, designed to make the populace incapable of independent thought [I will avoid any discussion of social media here].

I’m not saying Latinates, like expectorate, delineate, gubernatorial, etc, should be banned, and if I do use them in speech or thought I don’t think I should be vaporized and removed so that even the very memory of me no longer exists, as “1984” would have it.

I’m just saying that instead of expectorate, an Anglo-Saxon word like spit would nicely convey the same semantics, in a nice succinct way, and be easier to fit into a headline.

Oh yes, that is the entire reason I’m broaching the subject. Headlines are one of the most important elements in newspapers — they have to attract attention, and sum up the story below it in a colourful way that attracts readers, in as large a font as possible, also to attract readers, and at the same time using as few words as possible. In theory, you should be able to read the headline of this article, and get enough information from it that you can skip reading the words you’re reading now, and move over to the headline on Page 6, which concerns an interesting Tom Fletcher take on the Throne Speech.

This is a lot harder when we have to fit in words like “community,” or “infrastructure” — two words we use a lot when talking about our infrastructure woes. Our City Council is always talking about “community,” and “infrastructure.” And “sustainability.” Sometimes all in the same breath.

“Sustainable Community Infrastructure.” Twelve syllables. Think of all the good talking you could get in, instead of stumbling over those twelve cumbersome syllables.

So henceforth, I’m trying out “townspipes” — a new Anglo-Saxon word I’m creating right here before your very eyes, dear Reader — instead of the Latin. So if the headline were going to be “Council discusses funding for sustainable community infrastructure” — an unattractive headline if ever there was one — the new style would render it “Council talks townspipes bucks.” Let’s put them side over each:

“Council discusses funding for community infrastructure.” (I’m just getting rid of “sustainable” — I don’t know what it means, anyway).

“Council talks townspipes bucks”

Look at that! Half the length! Now we just need a shorter word for ‘Council’ and our headlines will have maximum punch. How about Hallmob?



Exactly the same length, as it turns out, but it jumps off the page more.

“Hallmob talks townspipes bucks”

If I were running that headline over one thin newspaper column, I could Saxon it down it further:





Now this is a good start.

* * *

This is not to say I don’t like long, Latin-based words. I actually love long words, the more syllables the better, and I like to slip them into the conversation or into my writing, even when I don’t know what they mean.

But there can be a risk in throwing the Latinates around, especially in the newspaper biz, where we like to keep things on the Anglo-Saxon side for ease of comprehension and speed of reading. Latinates stand out, and attract attention.

For instance: In my almost 20 years at the Townsman, I have used the word “eponymous” three times. [Meaning “of the same name” or giving your name to something. As in: “Most people prefer Led Zeppelin’s eponymous first album to their going-through-the-motions last album ‘In Through The Out Door.’” It’s actually a Greek word, but who’s counting, really.]

I used “eponymous” about five years apart each time, all in photo captions. The first time, readers read it and said: “‘Eponymous’ — how clever.” The second time I used it, five years later in a photo caption, people thought: “What’s with this continual use of the word ‘eponymous?’” The third time I used it, about five years later, in a photo caption, someone came up to me and said: “You sure like throwing this word ‘eponymous’ around, don’t you?”

So you will probably never read “eponymous” in the Cranbrook Townsman again.

Next week in World O’ Words: Our dream vacation in Potemkin Village