The Revenant of Obscure Adjectives

Considering Yagoda’s distaste for nouns, I found his affinity for adjectives interesting—since all they do is serve to modify each other or a noun. In spite of their rarity, and potential for abuse, Yagoda professes himself to be a collector of adjectives, and admits they do serve a useful purpose. His opinion on needlessly obscure adjectives—“NOAs”—confused me, however. It seems if a word is not in common usage, it does not deserve to be used adjectivally. I agree, if there’s a certain word that hasn’t been used since the 17th century and sounds like a tongue twister, that it probably should be replaced, but I enjoy coming across the occasional NOA and expanding my vocabulary. Sometimes obscure words find their way into pop culture and become common words. For instance, I had never heard of “revenant” until the 2016 film of the same name was released. While I’m sure many moviegoers have never bothered to look up the definition, I was able to learn a lot of what the movie was about, just by discovering that the title means “a person who returns.”Before ever seeing a trailer for The Revenant, I understood that the movie had to do with Leonardo DiCaprio returning to someone or somewhere. Now, I am just eagerly awaiting someone to inject this “new” word into modern vocabulary. While the noun may not catch on, I think it is a good example of how the media can bring formerly obscure words into clarity. Someone may not know the definition of revenant, but if they come across the word in the future, it will probably appear more familiar to them than obscure and confusing, and they may even be more inspired to find out its meaning. It seems the trick here is not to “kill” obscure adjectives, but employ them in a way that can make people familiar with its usage.

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2 Comments

  1. The last sentence of your blog post was an interesting thought. I feel it is useful to spread language and unfamiliar words when using them in things that people would recognize, just like the example you used for revenant. I think without the movie being named that, most people wouldn’t even know that the word existed, but with that being public since it is a big film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, people would be more aware when the word shows up somewhere else. I find it great when people who have power over others use it to inform and spread a message. Although it probably wasn’t the intention of the producers to spread vocabulary, they still named the movie a word that isn’t commonly used.

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  2. Andrea:

    I just wanted to start out by agreeing with your argument here: “It seems if a word is not in common usage, it does not deserve to be used adjectivally.” That makes sense–it seems to me that if something is being used and it is being used in a way that communicates effectively (not matter what it is), it’s a valid adjective. Adjectives that tend to be antiquated–like many of the ones Yagoda’s suggests in his lists–are simply out-of-date so why bother? On the other hand, if we JUST focus on functionality, then language loses a kind of richness, don’t you think?

    I do think that popular culture CLEARLY has a huge impact in what words get taken up and brought into circulation and use. For instance, MY first encounter with “revenant” (a word I love btw) came from the video game Halo–so it’s clear that our vocabulary can expand due to a huge range of resources!

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