The dictionary of lost words, the editorial of Franco Michienzi

Some words have been lost, others have fallen out of use, while others still are yet to be abandoned. In the nautical world, there are certainly some that deserve to be revived

by Francesco Michienzi

WHEN READING THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS, a complex and subtle novel by Pip Williams that explores the situation faced by women in the late nineteenth century, I thought about our lost words and the ones we could easily do without.

The book is an ode to words: the ones that have been discarded because they are only used in the common tongue and are therefore not held to be reliable, or words used to describe women in the late nineteenth century, which were not considered adequate to feature in the Dictionary because they were too strong, vulgar or useless. 

The Dictionary of Lost Words tells the story of Esme and how she had to fight to keep afloat in a male-dominated society.

However, the main character patiently and consistently shows us that every word can acquire a different meaning according to the person who uses it and the context in which it is pronounced.

Going back to words that regard the world of boats, but also our contemporary society, some seem to buzz around my head more than others. I would like to start with the ones we can easily do without. I’ll mention just a few to illustrate my ideas more tangibly. These are simply listed in random order, as they come to mind: innovative, luxurious, iconic, elegant, comfortable, eco-sustainable, green, resilient, and politically correct. Let’s be clear about this, we’re guilty of using these words too, but it’s an added reason to leave them in the cauldron of hot air. They’re often simply empty terms without any real descriptive content, words fired out randomly to fill blank pages. They’re an indicator of cultural poverty, pronounced to mask the lack of any real competence.

The publication of last century’s universal dictionaries was only possible thanks to the impressive workcarried out behind the scenes over many decades by a group of lexicographers.

Then there are the words that ought to form part of our daily breviary. These are the right words not only to describe ourselves but also the people around us and the society we live in. They could be a response to each individual’s need to be identified in terms as if they could put our personalities down on paper in black and white. In this case, they are not in random order. Ethics, respect, humanity, honesty, humility, passion, vision, irony, and levity. There are also words that should not be eliminated because we need them to describe our boundaries. I’d put hypocrisy at the top, followed by arrogance, avidity, indolence, and envy. They are words that go against our ideal world.

Lastly, we have the yachting words that risk being lost, and here we can really let loose. I’ll mention just one and wait for you to tell me the others: seaworthiness. The editorial team at Barche is rather like the Scriptorium that, in the late nineteenth century, helped give a voice to women reduced to silence, to the forgotten women, to those not taken into consideration, and yet who had a desperate need to be heard. We have the presumption to become the Scriptorium of the nautical world. For this to happen, we need to receive forgotten words from all those who imagine a better world.

(The dictionary of lost words – Barchemagazine.com – October 2021)