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Letter From America: Now There’s A Word You Don’t Hear Every Day!

...Anaglypta is not cheap, it is expensive, but because it is durable and paintable it will last longer than a lifetime and so represents an economical purchase for those that do not need to make economies. It has found a rival in blown polyurethane wallpapers that can have almost as much fine detail, but are less durable and more likely to be damaged by careless contact with hard or sharp objects.

So much for praising the durable and æsthetic properties of anaglypta. But, I must ask, when was the last time it came up in conversation?...

While musing upon the language of which he is a master-user, Ronnie Bray shines a light on the word "anaglypta''.

Some words just don’t make it into the main stream of life far enough to be brought up in everyday conversation. It is as if two complete strangers from different educational and social backgrounds were marooned on the same desert island. Each would have his normative, standard vocabulary with which he habitually interfaces with the rest of the world, and also have reserved vocabularies used to communicate with specialist segments of their communities. The words and terms either would use when speaking to their familiars and those used when speaking with their medical specialists would tend to be different to the extent that they are largely non-interchangeable.

If our two desert islanders were actually marooned rather than survivors of a shipwreck that happened to wash ashore on the same island, then each would likely have his own term for the event that promoted their shared condition.

One is unlikely to think of himself as marooned, while the other might well, and not altogether inaccurately, consider himself marooned. One might think of himself as fortunate to have survived, whereas the other might consider that fate has dealt him a death blow out of sullen vengeance for poking the vicar’s snotty-nosed kid in the eye at a Sunday School party.

I do not suggest that education or social standing alone determine optimism or pessimism, but that they make significant contributions to the description of events and circumstances that are, accents apart, give-aways.

If one of the shipwrecked parties was a surgeon, and his companion in disaster a fishmonger, while each wields scalpel and knife with dexterity on their particular subjects, what is exposed after their cutting bears no resemblance to the others findings, unless the surgeon is dealing with an unfortunate. That aside, just as the anatomical matter is different, so the vocabulary used to it is different.

But that fact in itself does not present an obstacle to communication. The barrier is more subtle than that, but it does hinge on the vocabulary and the use of certain words that are likely not part of the lingua franca of the fishmonger.

I do not wish to press this example too far because my concern is neither fish nor human flesh, nor what lies beneath their particular integuments. My subject is anaglypta and similar things.

Anaglypta is a wall covering that is too expensive for the poor, although most of the poor in the British Isles know what it is. They know what it is because it is fairly widespread in the larger houses that are common to the uncommon, but which is decidedly uncommon in the homes of common folk. However, it is not a matter of snobbishness but of affordability.

Anaglypta is not cheap, it is expensive, but because it is durable and paintable it will last longer than a lifetime and so represents an economical purchase for those that do not need to make economies. It has found a rival in blown polyurethane wallpapers that can have almost as much fine detail, but are less durable and more likely to be damaged by careless contact with hard or sharp objects.

So much for praising the durable and æsthetic properties of anaglypta. But, I must ask, when was the last time it came up in conversation? This morning I remembered anaglypta but couldn’t remember the last time I ever heard the word used, or read it in many long years.

On my particular desert island the wall coverings are sprayed on and flattened to form a small-fleck, low profile, paintable surface to walls and ceilings. That is the standard décor. So far I have not come across anyone whose home is wallpapered, let alone one that is supplied with anaglypta.

If I were to mention anaglypta to my fellow islanders I now I would get the same blank stares I get when I mention George Formby, Dandelion and Burdock, cow’eel, thruppence-‘apenny, fortnight, barmpot, or any one of thousands of words and expressions that brought instant recognition to the minds of my fellow desert islanders in Yorkshire, back in the day.

I accede that Britain and America are two countries separated by the same language. I accede it and also mourn it, but that is another matter for another time. The most important use of language is communicating ideas and information to another.

When the two people, marooned, shipwrecked, or thrown together by other forces share the same basic vocabulary, then understanding can be reached, even if agreement is absent. But when the basic terms and words are either absent or have had their meanings distorted or misapplied by one party, then the possibility of non-communication expands in direct proportion to the number of words whose meanings to each party have grown apart to the extent that they no longer mean the same thing to both persons.

I don’t suppose that I have suffered much mischief from being in an anaglypta-free-zone, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. I have been unable to locate any current data on the status of ‘anaglypta’ as an index of linguistic functionality, but you may be able to help me out.

For the next twenty-eight days, all you need to do is introduce ‘anaglypta’ subtly into every conversation you have with persons older than ten years. Note their responses, whether they know what it is, or whether the product is alien to them. Keep careful and detailed notes, and then report back in a four-week.

If this scientific survey is successful, I will consider you doing the same experiment with another word apparently in short supply these days. I am toying with ‘Vulcanise,’ mayhap ‘accumulator,’ perchance, ‘eftsoons,’ ‘quotha,’ or some other forby word, methinks. I shall rede thee anon, I trow, luculently, as is my wont.

Copyright © 2010 – Ronnie Bray

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