The Academy of New Words
In the beginning the language worked well:
named the body, spoke of birth
and love and death, the vigorous need for moving on.
Look, not so different from the old country after all –
terraces gone wild, narrow fields,
the trickle of water that could become a river.
We can make bricks from mud and straw,
a roof of plaited vines, grow wheat, bake bread.
There was a name for everything.
But as the children grew taller,
dissatisfied, wanting more,
the old belief broke down – that language worked
like bird-song, linking them
the way a lullaby, a thunderstorm,
are understood without translation.
Something new was needed: how else could
a roof-tile be described, electric-light,
a railway-train? What is a can of Coca-Cola?
Stumbling towards this brave new world,
the elders’ composites grew longer:
and still more difficult, messages-that
So the Academy was born.
Ten new words were ratified each week,
chanted in unison in all the schools.
But no-one could keep up:
the unstoppable children ran on
rapping, texting, surfing, streaming.
Now Professors of Linguistics study
yellowing box-files of the obsolete
in basements of the Public Libraries
while dazzling inventions flash by week on week –
wi-fi, satnavs, the blogosphere – and the old
fall silent, staring out of windows.