Lost words

I got several responses to my post about trying to find a word for the permanent watercourse that runs down the centre of the drain, the thing that I call the “beck”. Robert tells me that it’s a “fresh”, though I think I prefer Lachlan’s “stynx”, especially for that part of the drain that goes past the gasworks.


Megan pointed me to an article by Robert Macfarlane on his new book Landmarks, which is about the regional and place-specific words that describe certain characteristics or features of a place: landscape, animal behaviour, weather and climate patterns, and so on. The most shocking part of the article was this:

The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood.
The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.
As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the “Peat Glossary”, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.

It made me wonder about more new words for the urban environment. Words are obviously needed for the following phenomena. I’ve provided the definitions; now you provide the word.

1. The gap between two concrete slabs in a creek bed wide enough to stop an aerosol can from rolling into the stynx.


2. A group of interwoven twigs that were once a next but, having been abandoned, have now fallen from their place in a fig tree.

3. An air movement that is barely a breeze yet is strong enough to stop a pair of balloons from being washed downstream, causing them to bob on the surface of rapidly moving water without themselves going anywhere.


4. The temporary aggregation of leaves, sticks and litter that causes a body of water to pool around it. At some point the collection of sticks will collapse under its own weight.


5. The curiously curled-lip effect when a heavy flush is powerful enough to tear the roots of a mat of reeds and water hyacinth away from a concrete bed but without the force necessary to sweep the entire mat away.


6. The two-tone colour that occurs when a polluted, sediment-heavy drain empties into a fast-flowing fresh.


Answers on a postcard to the usual address.


13 Responses to Lost words

  1. Matthew Squair says:

    Perhaps a ‘skill’? That’s me firmly missing the boat.

  2. Lachlan Wetherall says:

    For No. 6 …

    Disparate effluences surging
    Into a single commingled merging
    Influenced by Mark’s blog urging
    I name this confluence an “efflerging”

  3. Lachlan Wetherall says:

    For No. 1, I suggest a “spritch”. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to infer the etymology of that one.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Isn’t spritch even a word yet? If so, why not? It kind of works for every one of the pictures!

  4. Lachlan Wetherall says:

    For No.2 … an “eggsitential crisis”

  5. Lachlan Wetherall says:

    For No. 3 … an “unwhifficle” – it’s a whiff of a breeze that undoes the trickle to the seas.

  6. Mark MacLean says:

    The prefix “un”: does this imply that there is a “whifficle” which an itself be “unwhifficled”. Or is this a noun that can’t be turned into a verb? So many questions!

    • Lachlan Wetherall says:

      “Unwhifficle” is definitely a noun, and if you are in the right place and time (as you were when taking the photo) you can observe “The unwhifficles of Styx”, which sounds like a lovely title for a children’s book. Any takers?

      There is also an adjectival form – “unwhifficular” which allows me to write …

      The unwhifficular flows are found
      Down in the drainy depths of Styx
      Bobbing balloons above the beck
      Where the efflerging fluids mix

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