Orts of Sorts, or|A Sort of an Ort

     It’s well known that the only reason chimpanzees don’t talk is that if they did we would put them to work.
     But humans have no such excuse. Our species just won’t shut up. All I’m asking is that we change the way we do it.
     Some excellent words are dying because people don’t use them anymore. Soon the lexicographers will drop them from the dictionaries. Then where will the poor words be?
     So let’s all start using ort again. Ort is a fine word. It means table scraps. I believe it’s usually used in the plural – “Give the dog the orts” – when it’s used at all.
     Ort is one of those words that looks like what it is.
     Another such word is cantaloupe.
     Ort looks like a scrap – like someone has gobbled down the front of it. I’d hate to see orts go the way of all orts.
     Another one is “bruited about.” I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone say that except me and an old New York Times guy. I’d hate to see that one go. Let’s bruit it about.
     Two more worth saving are behoof and behoove. They both derive from Anglo Saxon behofian – to need – but they mean different things now. Behoof is a noun that means to someone’s advantage, and is almost always used in the phrase “on your behoof.” Or on someone’s behoof. And behoove, a verb, is nearly always used in the phrase, “It would behoove you.”
     These are strange cases of words that survive, to the extent they survive at all, only as parts of a phrase. You never hear behoove in any other situation, and you never hear it in the past tense – as a matter of fact, you never hear it at all but in the conditional mood. It’s almost certainly the only word in English that appears only under those mysterious conditions. You never hear of apiarists being kicked to death by tiny behooves. I think it would behoove us throw behoove into a conversation every now and then. It would be to our behoof.
     I’m not a purist about language. I know it’s pointless to try to hold back the dismal onslaught of dreck that appears every year, not from Anglo Saxon, Greek or Latin roots, but from some moron on Madison Avenue. Words change, and that’s all there is to it.
     Doctor Johnson disapproved of the word “fun.” He thought it was a “low” word, whatever that means.
     Doctor Johnson also objected that people in his day, 250 years ago, misused the word “anecdote.” Anecdote, the good doctor said, meant an unpublished reminiscence. So it should be impossible to read a book of anecdotes. But Doctor Johnson acknowledged he was fighting a losing battle on that one.
     The quickest example of word change I ever saw was on the San Carlos Apache reservation. Many moons ago, Globe High School hired me to teach Apache history and language.
     Don’t ask.
     I found that Apaches older than me said, “Hi, how are you?” like this: Inagodozish. (The “sh” at the end is an approximation of a voiceless L. The sound is pronounced by putting your tongue in the “L” position and exhaling without using your vocal cords.)
     Apaches of my generation knocked off a syllable and shortened the word to Inagodzish.
     Apaches in the next generation knocked off another syllable, and said Inaodzish.
     Two syllables gone from a word in two generations. That’s fast work.
     I have no problem with that. Though if the process continues, in three more generations that word won’t exist at all.
     Ah, well. It’s pointless to complain about language. It’s the same old Plato v. Aristotle argument: does language exist in a truer sense than any of us poor individuals do, or do only individuals exist, and is language just such stuff as dreams are made on, an insubstantial pageant faded that will leave not a wrack behind?
     Beats me. The whole question, I think, is just persiflage, brouhaha, rodomontade.

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