genge

This word has a special place in the annals of irony, thanks to its entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. That’s pretty much the only dictionary you’ll find it in.

The OED has in the past acquired many words on the strength of one or two ancient citations – sometimes so long obsolete that the sense is opaque – and is loath to discard them, regardless of how gangrenous or gone they are. A word need not be current, prevalent, or valid to be there; it is the grand antiquarian shop of the language.

Which leads us to genge. There is no pronunciation note on it to tell us whether it should be “genj” or “jenj” or “geng” or “jeng” or what. But I think “geng” or “genga” or maybe even “yenga” is most likely on the mark, given that there are no citations later than the Early Middle English period (the 1200s). The OED marks it “Obs.” (obsolete). The definition? “Current, prevalent, valid.”

It is, in short, a word that is exactly not what it says.

It comes with a good pedigree from the foundational days of English. But a language is not a giant Jenga tower; you can remove many pieces from the base and it will ascend babulously into the empyrean nonetheless, growing like an erector-set space station. So genge, however with-it it may have been, however well intended, slips out unnoticed.

Just as well. Plans for language are ever subject to Robert Burns’s maxim: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.” As in this case – especially, since genge is gang gone agley, so to speak. The verb gang, which means ‘go’ (though it’s used in that sense only in a limited area now, notably Scotland), gained the suffix –e and an a-to­-e umlaut to go with it to make this word genge, which might be thought of as ‘going’. You know, a going concern – which is to say, current, prevalent, and valid.

Genge, going? Hm. Well. Gone.

But not forgotten. At least by the OED. And now you and I can use it sarcastically to mean what it once meant in earnest… but only amongst ourselves. It’s not exactly, um, genge.

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2 responses to “genge

  1. As I was reading the last paragraph I was guessing where you were going with it, and when I saw “amongst ourselves” I was thinking “our gang.” (And it looks like that noun is related, isn’t it?)

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