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:
the round-eye-that-remembers-everything,

the box-of-moving-pictures-in-the-dark,
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.

Beatrice Garland

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