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New words in green English

New words in green English
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First Published: Mon, Aug 01 2011. 10 09 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Aug 01 2011. 10 09 PM IST
During the last two months Indian companies have been sending email messages to their shareholders explaining the “noble Go Green initiative” which they are adopting, to put into practice paperless communication that could save our forest wealth.
The word green has come down to us from Old English, and is related to a base which means grow. Though a very common word, it does not have many synonyms. The only synonym you find in a college dictionary is “verdant”, related to French vert, meaning green. The noun “verdure” is not widely used...
Green in its environmental sense is attested from 1972. Greenpeace, the group championing the protection of the environment, appeared in 1971. From then the green vocabulary has been expanding. Macmillan Dictionary declared June 2011 Green English month. A few of the new words got into popular use soon and we have words like “precycling”, “e-waste” and stashbusting. Here are some interesting additions.
Anthropocene is a term in geology, and refers to the geological age in which we are living. It was coined by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. Anthropos means man, and –cene stands for new or recent. At a geologists’ conference he heard someone say Holocene. Immediately it struck him that Holocene has ended after a term of 11,700 years, and we are now in the Anthropocene. We are living in a world where human intervention has transformed nature and poses a threat to our life support systems.
When did the Anthropocene begin? One view is that the new age began with the coming of agriculture. A more plausible view is that it covers our history from 1800 and the industrial revolution, when the detritus of industry polluted the earth and the atmosphere. A third possible boundary is the end of World War II. Pollution by carbon dioxide emission, radioactive trails after nuclear activity and other threats to the ecosystem mark the beginning of the new epoch.
Another word which has been in the news in the last few years is “greenwashing”. The idea of whitewashing or deliberate concealment of one’s mistakes or faults is implied in the word. When a company or an industry or any other group assumes the garb of being environmentally friendly, while its operations are destructive to the ecosystem, we call that greenwashing.
An instance of greenwashing that got into the headlines is the activity of loggers in Malaysia. The rainforests there were being razed. It is said that area equal to twenty soccer fields was being axed every day. Reports said that World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which should be the guardian of the forests, was soft on the loggers and allowed them to use the iconic panda logo of WWF to create an eco-friendly image of themselves. Critics said WWF was “pandering to the loggers”.
In Australia, there were powerful groups engaged in industries such as mining, cement, oil, electricity and transport with enough clout to influence government policy. These groups were called the greenwashing mafia.
Now who is to bell the cat? George Bush believed that global warming could best be addressed by business volunteering to help. The other view is that government must regulate carbon emission with penalties and taxes.
The 23 July issue of The Economist carries a reassuring message from Canada for the sceptics who preordain governmental action to failure. The British Columbian government imposed a carbon tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Business’s feared that it would adversely affect the economy, and Canada’s prime minister himself was sceptical of such measures. In the event, the example of British Columbia showed that a carbon tax can “achieve multiple benefits at minimal cost”. Significantly, this report carried the headline, “We have a winner”.
V.R. Narayanaswami is a former professor of English, and has written several books and articles on the usage of the language. He looks at the peculiarities of business and popular English usage in his fortnightly column.
Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Aug 01 2011. 10 09 PM IST