Zipf’s Law: most words occur very rarely–but, they do occur. Case in point: ichor. I went 55 years of my life without ever running into it before that I can recall–and then last year, I came across it twice. (Yes, I remember shit like how many times I came across the word ichor last year–probably why I get divorced so often.)
Is it really possible to use the word ichor in a conversation? As the kids say: hells, yes! For example: I have a bit of a cold, so I spent the morning wiping ichor off of my nose. (Seriously–I feel like shit.) I’m in Hawaii at the moment, so I’m eating a lot of poke–a traditional Hawaiian dish made of raw tuna, which depending on how it’s been marinated, may or may not have a coating of ichor on it. Fastoche–working “ichor” into your quotidian conversations is easy-peasy.
Questions for discussion while you wonder whether or not I’m kidding about wiping ichor off my nose all morning:
- What does it mean for a word to be in a language? When I say that ichor is an English word: is it possible, in theory, to demonstrate whether or not that statement is true?
- Is there some authority that determines what is or is not a word in the English language? If so: who died and made them king? (That’s something that kids say when someone who they don’t think has any right to tell them what to do tells them what to do: who died and made you king?)
- Is being–or not–part of a language purely a question of use? If so: does frequency matter? How often does something have to be used to count as part of the language, versus, say, some word that I just made up off the top of my head, or some Yiddish word that I used because I happened to know that my interlocutor would understand it, even though we were speaking English at the time?
- If it’s purely a question of use: does it matter who uses it? Like, if a word is only used by adolescent pot-smokers, but it’s used by a lot of adolescent pot smokers–would that do it? How about if a word is used by exactly the same number of people, but they’re all university professors with doctorates in something cool and tweed jackets? And what if no one in the entire fucking world except university professors with doctorates in something cool and tweed jackets knows what the hell it means–does that change your judgement? How about if it’s only one person, but he’s the president of the most powerful country in the world (for the moment, i.e. until he fucks it up)? Covfefe, anyone? What if the president uses it, but only one time, and he’s a fucking ignoramus, but then the whole country picks it up, even though it was just a typo, because the president of the most powerful country in the world (for the moment, i.e. until he fucks it up) is too sloppy to be bothered to check his tweets before he hits the Send button?
…or, we could all just step outside for a cigarette and a bit of fresh air. We are, after all, in Hawaii, and the question of what it means for a language to have something–or not–is really hard to answer. Tell us about your uses of “ichor” today in the Comments section!