The BBC tells me that "some of the oldest words in the English and other Indo-European languages have been identified":

Reading University researchers say "I", "we", "two" and "three" are among the oldest in use and could date back thousands of years.

Using a computer model, the team analysed the rate of change of words and say they can predict which are likely to become extinct.

They believe "squeeze", "guts", "stick" and "bad" could become obsolete first (more...)

Readers Comments

  1. I'm not sure words and language are ever an exact science, for example I can't see the word "stick" disappearing because there are a number of uses for the word itself - it might change its contexxt but I think the word will remain. I do like the idea of language as a big game of Chinese Whispers though - seems quite apt really!

    I love reading books on the uses and origins of words, but the best ones I've read recently are The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester, a fascinating story of one man's contribution to the first OED, and The Origins of Words and Phrases of which the content is pretty obviously displayed by the title.

    It's fascinating how words can just adapt between generations and within decades - something the internet and TV have most definitely accelerated in recent years. Sick man! (I mean that in the modern teen context, I;m not calling you a sick man...)

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I think, actually, it is precisely the fluidity of the meaning of words like "stick" that makes the researchers think they are more likely to die out than words with a widespread and longstanding fixed meaning...

    Like you, I'm a bit of a sucker for books about words (and books about books about words!) and I enjoyed Winchester's book immensely.

  3. Is Winchester's book the same one that goes by the title The Professor and the Madman in the States?

    Also, no doubt "die out soon" is rather a relative thing here? As if "bad" or "dirty" are likely to literally die out "soon".

  4. Hiya Richard,

    Yup -- same book: from a customer review on -- "I purchased this book while in London recently under its British title THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE. Apparently for American readers, the publishers felt it necessary to "tart up" the title..."

  5. Oh dear...but Crowthorne is such a glamorous place? I live there and I have to say it's a very evenful place...sort of...

    Has anyone read any of Winchester's other books? I saw The Map That Changed The World the other day in a book shop and was heartily tempted to buy it...looked pretty interest. Didn't spot any books about books about books about words though, not sure Penguin are onto that niche in the market yet!

  6. I have read both THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE and The Map That Changed The World - both brilliantly written and describe dedication to one cause with no personal gain.

  7. If "bad" becomes obsolete, are we finally entering the era of Newspeak? Must we say "ungood", or be vaprised into "unpersons" [sic]?
    I'm elaborating on this optimistic view of our benevolent modern leaders on my satirical blog, Enjoy!

Leave a Comment

If you have not posted a comment on RSB before, it will need to be approved by the Managing Editor. Once you have an approved comment, you are safe to post further comments. We have also introduced a captcha code to prevent spam.




Enter the code shown here:   [captcha]

Note: If you cannot read the numbers in the above image, reload the page to generate a new one.