Tuesday 23 August 2011

Obsolete Schmobsolete

I'm still reeling from the news that the words 'aerodrome' and 'charabanc' have been judged obsolete. Well, I say 'news', but of course it's just an attention-grabbing press release issued by the publishers, in time-honoured fashion, ahead of a new edition. Collins dictionaries are by and large descriptive rather than historical, but it still seems harsh to bundle 'aerodrome' and 'charabanc' in with the like of the truly defunct 'wittol', 'stauroscope' and 'woolfell' (though I can imagine Geoffrey Hill using that one). 'Succedaneum' has been lodged in my mind, along with a lot of other useless stuff, ever since my schooldays when I came across it in The Prelude -
'Science appears as what in truth she is,
Not as our glory and our absolute boast,
But as a succedaneum, and a prop
To our infirmity.'
As for 'supererogate', some of us are keeping that one going...
I must confess that my brother and I share a taste (no doubt annoying and/or incomprehensible to all around us) for archaisms and obsolete words, never failing to pronounce jazz 'jass', golf 'goff' and skiing 'shee-ing'. For us, a shrink will always be an 'alienist' (pace Collins) and that new-fangled moving-picture device the 'kinematograph', while lawn tennis and table tennis are respectively 'sphairstike' and 'whiff whaff'. In such company, 'charabanc' and 'aerodrome' have a dangerous whiff of modernity.


  1. well I'm in my early 30's and use aerodrome quite frequently - in fact as far as I'm aware many of the surrey airfields near you Nige (ie dunsfold, redhill, biggin hill etc) are all still referred to as aerodromes?? can't see how the word could be obsolete

  2. Kinematograph? You must mean the 'bioscope', which is what we called it (fifty years ago on the Zambezi lowveld).

  3. Bioscope, of course! Here's me falling for the latest novelty again...
    And you're right Worm, aerodrome still has a useful meaning and is surely still in use, whatever Collins says.

  4. Whiff whaff?! Excellent, a friend of mine has recently purchased a table tennis table so I'll be giving that one an airing...

  5. I was just on the goff-course the other week as it happens, gave my niblick and baffing spoon their annual outing.

  6. We were asking ourselves precisely the same yesterday. i only used the word charabanc about a month ago. A good word. Sounds a fun job though - spending all day loojing for obsolete words!