Five life-affirming words we should bring back into use – FFA

Sara Pons-Sanz writes that breathing new life into hope-giving words can help cultivate happiness and boost well-being.

Susie Dent is a Lexicographer, TV personality and TV personality. She recently embarked upon a curious, self-appointed mission. She is determined to bring the word “respair”, last used around 1525, back into common usage.

“Respair”, Dent explains, means “fresh hope; a recovery from despair”. According to Dent, the English language displays a pessimistic bent. It tends not to retain the positive qualities of different words but it does retain their negative aspects. For instance, we say “unkempt”, but have forgotten that “kempt” was once an adjective too.

Words can be lost for many reasons. Some words have similar meanings and are replaced with others. The Old English verb is no longer used niman but have instead adopted the Viking equivalent, “take”.

Others can be a concept or an object or a trend that has lost its relevance. “Butter” and its variant, “butteris”, were used to refer to a tool for trimming the hooves of a horse before shoeing, which is not something many people do anymore.

A language is directly related to the society that uses it. Language is shaped by fundamental principles such as our needs, beliefs, and history. Lexicographers have shown that the pandemic has led to an explosion of new words and phrases, including “Blursday” and “covidiot”.

Given the uncertainty and stresses Covid-19 continues to inflict, we might take Dent’s lead and seek out further words to bring back in order to lift people’s spirits. Here are five terms from the Oxford English Dictionary that are connected to the importance of loving and appreciating oneself, one’s fellow human beings, and the whole world.


According to some lexicographers, the English language has evolved to be pessimistic. Image by Ben White

1. Adamate: To Love Very Much

This verb is formed by the Latin root of the Latin verb amare, which means “to love”. Dramatists used it in the 17th century.

AmareFrench also represents it amant, which means “lover” and is now mainly used in English in connection with adulterous relationships. While it is difficult to establish exactly why “adamate” did not become popular, the more negative associations of the French loan might have played a role.

2. Autometry: self-measurement, self-estimation

Although still used in mathematics, in connection with measuring the dimensions of something, I am interested here in a single use of “autometry” by the poet Robert Southey. In his 1829 book, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, which details imaginary conversations between the author and the social philosopher Thomas More, Southey uses “autometry” to refer to the significance of one’s own judgement: “You judge of others by yourselves,” he writes, “and therefore measure them by an erroneous standard whenever your autometry is false.”

Southey may have actually invented the term. It is believed that he used it 50 years before anyone else. This was in keeping with his belief about the importance of the individual, justice, and equality. At a time when we are all so worried about how we are perceived by others, often through our social media accounts, we’d do well to practise autometry in Southey’s sense more often.


The pandemic has brought about a flood of new vocabulary. Image: Joshua Hoehne

3. Biophilia: Love of life

This word is probably best known as the title of Icelandic singer Björk’s seventh studio album. “Biophilia” and its counterpart “necrophilia” were coined in the 19th century as technical terms in psychology. The popularity of the term “necrophilia” and its increasing association with deviant sexual practices have been boosted by a number of high-profile criminal cases.

“Biophilia”, by contrast, has remained fairly restricted to technical discussions in psychoanalysis. Nonetheless, its literal meaning – the love of life – suggests a broader human need or desire to connect with nature and living things.

4. Collachrymate – to weep together

Covid has had to live in a restricted area. This context makes this verb, which expresses sympathy in a physical way, particularly resonant.

“Adamate” and “collachrymate” are two examples of words borrowed directly from Latin (respectively, Adamare collacrimari) or coined on the basis of Latin roots during the 16th and 17th centuries in an attempt to increase the expressiveness and beauty of English.

While some of these terms are still in use today (“abdominal”, “abrupt”, “accurate”), most had a very limited lifespan. To a large extent this was because enriching the language in this way was not to everyone’s taste. Others believed that these terms were confusing and that English could use its own words to convey similar meanings. Why say? latrate(The Latin word that describes the sound a dog makes) When you could just say bark?

Words matter because they help us understand emotions. Image: Seven Shooter

5. Mesology: The science behind achieving happiness

This noun is used in scientific texts from the 19th Century. It likely comes from the French word. mésologieThe study of the relationship between an organism’s environment and its environment is called ecology.

The term was also used in 1830 by Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher. This might be an example ad hoc coinage. He defines “mesology” as the scientific enquiry or branch of logic that deals with the means of attaining happiness.

Bentham was particularly interested to find out how social institutions could help as many people achieve happiness as possible. While some of his ideas are not practical, others are just as problematic as they seem.), imagining mesology in today’s school curriculum alongside biology is an intriguing proposition.

The words we use can influence how we think about and feel about emotions. The expressions “letting off steam” or “my blood is boiling”, suggest, for example, that we associate anger with heat and, in particular, a boiling liquid. Words can also cause emotions. It is possible to bring happiness and a sense od wellbeing by giving life to hope-giving words.

Sara Pons-Sanz is a lecturer at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. You can read the original article.

Main image: Ben White

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