174 THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING The process of change in the vocabulary is unceasing. The coining of new terms and the emergence of new meanings or usage are constant. Recent influences upon the vocabulary’s development have included an explosion in technical terminology and jargon since the middle of the 20th century, necessitated by the commercialization of technology and the advent of the computer age.
Word Formation A greater understanding of how words operate can be gleaned through knowledge of the various processes by which they are formed and of the various classes into which they can be categorized beyond their basic grammatical identity as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on. The study of the origin and development of words is called etymology. The best source of information about the etymology of a particular word is a good dictionary, although it is also possible to consult books dedicated to the study of word origins. The larger dictionaries often provide additional etymological information about individual words, suggesting which language a word might have come from as well as, perhaps, its original form and an indication of when it first appeared in the English language. Thus, to take one example, consulting a good dictionary about a word such as soldier will reveal the etymological information that it entered the English language in the 13th century, being derived from the Old French soude (meaning “army pay”), which itself came from the Late Latin solidus (meaning “gold coin” and originally “firm”). Because the English language as we know it is the product of a thousand years or more of continual (and continuing) development, many words have changed their spelling or meaning one or more times over the centuries. This factor may be of some significance if a reader is reading (or writing) a book or document of a historical character, whether it be a play by William Shakespeare or a legal paper dating back 100 years. Words that have famously, and sometimes unpredictably, changed their meaning include nice (formerly meaning dainty or delicate but now more generally indicating anything satisfactory in nature) and gay (formerly meaning jolly or bright but now relating almost exclusively to homosexuality). Relatively few words in English are the product of pure invention, and most have evolved from or are related to other words. A large proportion of words in English are blends resulting from the combination of two or more existing words (see PORTMANTEAU WORDS on the next page). Another substantial class of words owes its existence to the addition (see PREFIXES AND SUFFIXES, page 185) or removal (see BACK FORMATION on the following page) of various affixes to existing words, which again may provide a clue as to meaning (thus aqua- signifies something to do with water, while psycho- indicates a connection with psychology). A relatively small number of words called eponyms began life as surnames, in which case the life of the person concerned may give an idea of the field to which a particular term is relevant: for instance, newton (after British physicist Isaac Newton) and sousaphone (after U.S. composer John Philip Sousa). Of those words that have sprung up apparently independently of other existing words, there is usually no alternative but to have their meaning