Words

16Oct08

Dictionary Image

I’ve always loved language but never considered myself any good at learning foreign ones. Now, as a part-time student with a full-time job, my schedule is far too hectic to take on a language as well, as much as I’d love to brush up on my French, abandoned after my GCSEs over 8 years ago. Our own English language however, fascinates me, and always has. As a rather precocious child, I loved trying to speak “like a grown-up”, learning big words and feeling terribly proud of myself when I managed to use them in their correct context. I was the class geek who actually enjoyed the spelling tests (if we had spelling bees in this country I’d probably have devoted much of my school life to them), and even then I found words themselves really interesting, particularly if they were long and unusually spelt.

My lovely leather-bound dictionary

My lovely leather-bound dictionary

British readers may have caught the fabulous BBC series Balderdash and Piffle, a hunt for the etymology and history of certain words, in an attempt to pre-date the existing citation in the Oxford English Dictionary. Many of the words investigated on this show are listed here on the OED website, where alongside words such as domestic, identity theft and stiletto, there are such classics as Glasgow kiss, plonker and wazzock, as well as a certain “C” word the origins of are really quite fascinating and in some instances surprising.

Unfortunately, the clip discussing said word is not available on YouTube, for obvious reasons, so to give you a taste of what I’m on about, here’s a clip about dogging! (Although there is no real dogging in this clip, it may not be safe for work!)

There are a few other clips on YouTube if you want to see more!

I was prompted to think about this because of a post on a law blog or “blawg” by the always-entertaining Charon QC, concerning the radio station “Absolute Radio” and “Absolut Vodka” battling over trademarks. (See Out-Law’s article concerning the case).

“It is getting very tiresome when greedy, rapacious, commercial organisations want to Trade Mark words from language.  Our language should belong to all.”

(Charon QC, 2008)

Personally, I agree. Single words should not be subject to copyright unless they are names invented by or attributed to the copyright-holders. Absolute is not a word invented by a vodka company, it is part of our language and should not be owned by anyone. Copyright the name “Absolut Vodka” as a business title perhaps, but being able to restrict the usage of a single word based on the fact that you chose to use it in the name of your product? Unless there is an “impostor” item that is blatant rip-off of the original product, I believe words that have been around a lot longer than the business claiming to “own” them belong to everyone and their use should not be thus restricted.

I am not, however, a trained lawyer, so perhaps with more experience in the legal field my viewpoint will change. For the moment though, I shall go back to my reading and be thankful that at least in everyday life if not in the business world, we are free to be as creative (or colourful!) with our language as we wish!

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