Do languages evolve like biological species? An Answer in the mid-June issue of ‘Tell Your Story Newsletter’ . . .

June 2024 Vol 6 Issue 6

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Teaching English as a Second Language
Let us tell your story!

Welcome Mid-June 2024!
As I prepare this issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter,” we have had over a week of grey skies and nourishing rain, punctuated by one or two “thunderplumps,” (downpours of fat, heavy raindrops), as described by English lexicographer (wordsmith extraordinaire), Susie Dent.

Today, though, the sun banished the grey clouds to make weekly activities and errands more pleasant!

With Father’s Day approaching this weekend, I hope you will find some time to spend with family, even if the “great outdoors” may not be as sunny and warm as we’d like.

This mid-June issue of “Tell Your Story Communications” is dedicated to the wonderful complexity and capacity of the English language–something I regularly contemplate, when I teach newcomers.

In “Article One,” this month, I visit the contention (presented by staff writers at “The Economist” that languages (including English) evolve like biological species do. . . . English as a Second Language learners (ESL) take note, if English seems a less-than-straightforward language to you!

And in this month’s issue of “Storytellers’ Corner,” I share 10 “obsolete” words that blogger Julia McCoy thinks we should revive. Then I step back to ask, “why do words matter so much, anyway . . .?”

As summer begins to unfurl, I wish each of you time to relax and recharge–body, mind and spirit–in the company of the family and/or friends you most enjoy.

While Saskatchewan’s northern lakes are a beautiful setting for time with loved ones, her many urban parks are also lovely. Consider Saskatoon’s Forestry Farm Park and even small neighbourhood ones,
such as the G.D. Archibald and Wilson Parks. All are child-friendly.

Which favourite haunts will you visit, this summer?

Enjoy this beautiful season, good readers, so that the prosperity of your relationships and the memories they create will be yours, now and always.

Sincerely yours,
Storytelling Communications


ARTICLE 1: Do languages evolve like biological species? Staff writers at ‘The Economist’ have an answer . . .

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: Amazing, obsolete words in the English dictionary” that we should revive + the bigger picture of why words matter!




Article One: Do languages evolve like biological species? Staff writers at “The Economist” have an answer . . .

As readers will know from prior issues of my enewsletter and prior postings of my blog, I often read the writing of a set of staff writers at “The Economist” who adopt the collective name of “Johnson” (after Samuel, himself, the 18th-Century lexicographer and author).

The “Johnson” writers discuss fascinating contemporary aspects of English language and culture with close research into their historical roots.

In one such article, “Johnson” (as I’ll refer to them, hereafter) wrote that Charles Darwin saw that there are parallels between the evolution of languages and that of biological species.

Today, linguists, philologists and lexicographers (e.g. British lexicographer Susie Dent) tell us that languages are developing and changing all the time. Often, intellectuals view these changes as positive or neutral, but not necessarily negative.

New uses of words appear and old ones disappear.

Terms like “doomscrolling” and “mansplaining” and changes to the meaning of words like “epic” and “branding” show evolution, just as other words fall away.

The latter words exist by the thousands, including, for example, “crapulous” (feeling ill from excessive eating or drinking) and “grumpish” (meaning sullen or grumpy). (For more on obsolete words, see “Storytellers’ Corner,” below, this month.)

Contemporary linguists and philologists apply methods from other sciences to try to organize and explain changes in language. This contrasts the past, Johnson says, when “influence once ran the other way,” when “discoveries in linguistic history [left] a mark on evolutionary theory.”

For instance, Johnson cites the late 18th-century British judge, William Jones, stationed in India, who argued that Sanskrit’s similarity to Latin and Greek was not due to “chance.” Jones proposed (more persuasively than his peers) that there was “a parent language,” like a parent species in biology, from
which these other languages were descendants —“Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Persian and other European tongues.”

By the 1830s, Jones’ insight, elaborated upon by philologists who had followed him, was picked up by the young Charles Darwin, who thought that evidence that different languages had evolved from a single parent language required a much longer human history than sourcebooks like The Bible

Thirty-five years later, Darwin analyzed the parallel between the development of language and evolution, writing that both were “developed through a gradual process,” that was “curiously the same.” Having observed that changes to language occur over long periods of time, he thought it was
possible that one language had “given birth to both Hindi and English,” as Johnson reports.

The emergence of different species of course occurs both in language and in biology. Darwin found that finches separated on different Galapagos islands developed into different species, and that those who contributed to the survival of the group became prevalent by natural selection. “When
such changes accumulate,” as Darwin argued, you develop “two different species.”

Linguistic populations when separated by distance or physical barriers (e.g. oceans, mountains) have similarly differentiated. Small and random changes to pronunciation or to the meaning or grammar of words may be too small for a tribe to notice them. But as many generations pass, with numerous
neologisms arising from a mix of old syllables and mistakes or irregularities to create new words, native “speakers gradually lose the ability to converse with [one] another—[so] two speciating populations being to lose the ability to mate” (Johnson).

Contemporary linguists and philologists have observed other parallels between evolution and language development. Words, writes Mark Pagel (Reading Univ.), are like genes in being “discrete, heritable unities.”
As “Johnson” says, DNA replicating is like my “language teaching” (ESL) to economic immigrants!

“Physical fossils resemble ancient texts,” Johnson argues. But he notes that there are also differences, the largest of which is that “the chief driver of biological evolution—natural selection—is mostly absent in language.”
Johnson observes that whereas a bad mutation can kill an animal (or human), changes in language aren’t usually fatal.

Words may change meaning not to “avoid a predator, but because they help people communicate.” And new meanings for a word may not pertain to the “fitness” of its meaning or speaker. As Johnson notes, a celebrity’s use of a word may “take off quicker” than an academic (neologist)’s, simply because the celebrity has more followers on “X” or “TikTok.”

Johnson writes that “there is a deep and revealing relationship between linguistic change and biological evolution—along with some [major] differences.”

The final shared feature between these two kinds of evolution is that development is not “a process of ever-increasing sophistication.” Both organisms and languages “change to fit their environments.

They may not always become more refined,” Johnson writes. “But neither are they in decline,” he concludes, despite the ongoing lament of traditionalists (in both fields).

And that gives regular users of language, ESL/TEFL teachers and students alike–not to mention native speakers who resent the effects of immigration–much to contemplate.

And now it’s your turn: What do you think about the parallel of biological for linguistic evolution?
Do you agree or disagree with what their relationship has taught us (as summarized by “Johnson”)?
Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.



STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on English Writing and Editing . . .

This month: “Amazing, obsolete words in the English dictionary” that we should revive + the bigger picture of why words matter!


In a recent blog posting on, American copywriter Julia McCoy has collected “30 amazing, obsolete words in the English dictionary we should bring back to life.” McCoy asserts that words in English do have a limited lifespan. Some originate before present-day
English developed, while others have been “completely ditched.”

To keep this column quick to read, I share below just 10 seldom or never-used words that McCoy thinks were “retired” before their time. Then I’ll reflect more broadly on why words matter at all, with help from English lexicographer,
Susie Dent.

(1) “Groak”—means “to watch someone silently, as they eat,” hoping they’ll share with you. (e.g. How can I enjoy my perogies while that woman is groaking me?)

(2) “Snowbrowth”—from the 1590s, it refers to freshly melted snow. (e.g. Last night there was a snowstorm, that blanketed the yard. But now, it’s merely snowbrowth.)

(3) Excogigate—from Latin origins that mean “to bring out by thinking,” this word means “to plot, plan [or] devise,” but not in a linear way. (e.g. What is Bruce excogigating over there?)

(4) Apricity—from the 1620s, this means “when it’s a cold winter’s day, but the sun is gloriously warm.” (e.g. Although temperatures may be -40 degrees Celsius, apricity makes Saskatoon winters bearable.)

(5) Twattle—means “to gossip.” (e.g. Stop twattling and get back to work!)

(6) Elflock—means “if you have wavy hair and you wake up with it tangled and mangled. . . as if elves have tied it into knots during the night.” (e.g. Have you seen the state of his elflocks today?)

(7) “Gorgonize” – from the early 17th Century, means “to have a mesmerizing effect on someone.” (e.g. I was gorgonized by the sight of him, as he entered the room).

(8) “Curgluff”—a Scottish term from the 19th Century, it means an “intense shock.” (e.g. When you plunge into that cold ocean water and want to scream, you’ll experience curgluff!)

(9) “Snoutfair”—a 16th Century term that refers to “a good-looking person.” (e.g. Janet’s new boyfriend is a total snoutfair!)

(10) “Monsterful” —from the 1820s, it means “something rather extraordinary and wonderful. (e.g. The movie was every bit as monsterful as the trailer promised.)

Why do words like these above matter so much? In other reading this month, I learned that psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett has found that having the vocabulary to articulate happy feelings can help us to manage our emotions better.
Similarly, having fun words for sad feelings can make us feel less alone. Words matter and it’s important that anyone who wishes can learn to listen, speak, read and write English well.

In an interview in “The Guardian” newspaper (September 2023), etymologist and lexicographer Susie Dent reports that non-native speakers of English around the world now outnumber native speakers. So there will be many “new Englishes” in these people’s “hands and mouths,” around the world.

Dent sees this positively, not as a threat, saying, “English has always evolved by mistake . . . The example I give is the Jerusalem artichoke, which has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not even an artichoke. The plant is a heliotrope—it turns toward the sun—but because we couldn’t pronounce the
Italian ‘gira sol,’ we thought ‘Jerusalem’ would do.” She refuses to despair about the future of language or of the world it reflects.

When asked for favourite words, Dent names one that resonates most with me: “respair.” It means “the opposite of despair; it only has one record in the dictionary, and it means to recover from despair.” But, she adds, “it also means hoping for better days around the corner. Having fresh hope
and optimism.”

And now it’s your turn: What do you think of retired words like those McCoy has collected? And do you think changes and growth in the English language are something to “respair” about, as Susie Dent does?

Please write in: I’d be delighted to hear from you!


Since the last issue of TYSN, I’m happy to report that a “reconvention” of “Table 32,” from May 15th’s gala of the Women Entrepreneurs of SK (WESK), has occurred!

While some at our table (notably me) did not dress as opulently for the gala as other attendees (thinking, “this is not the Academy Awards” . . . .) and while we laughed about being in the “nosebleed” seats, four of our table’s original six women entrepreneurs happily reconnected last week at Prairie Sun Brewery.

And others sent regrets until we meet again. We plan to reconvene to support each other’s businesses by sharing referrals, resources and strategies
for living our best lives.

Now that’s what I call networking!

Thanks to Suzanne Anton, Keshia Gamola and Sandra Miller for returning to the metaphorical table; Annie Charles, Kristen Pierce , Aimee Brown and some new entrepreneurial “sisters” will likely join us in August!
As summer transforms our yards, gardens and minds, many Saskatchewanian entrepreneurs head to one of the province’s 100,000 lakes or travel out-of-province to see family and friends. In both cases, you may find yourself wishing for a local food or artistic product to enrich a meal or as a
housewarming gift.

When seeking just that, I was delighted recently to revisit Sask-Made Marketplace at 8th Street and Louise Avenue (Louis the 8th Mall). I was impressed to find a much larger range of inventory than earlier existed, in pre-pandemic times.

Last week, for instance, I particularly appreciated Grassland Greens’ microgreens, several varieties of bison meat, photographs by Debra Marshall, local paintings and pottery from several Saskatchewan artists, fruit products and syrups (including those made with local haskap berries),
handmade jewellery, beeswax candles, alpaca products and more . . . .
And the staff were welcoming and cheerful.

If you haven’t visited Sask-Made Marketplace recently, do please consider visiting soon!

Some of their many food products are available in small sizes (under 100 ml), accepted by airport security, if you find yourself flying this summer.

Special thanks to Marketing Maverick (and CEO of “TrustedSaskatoon”), Sara Wheelwright, for thoroughly reviewing my website and social marketing last month, as I work on promoting my ESL teaching services. . . .

Sara’s marketing prowess helped identify key areas for development: Thank you, Sara! And similarly, another thanks goes to Toronto designer, Oliver Sutherns, who has helped me to perform numerous edits that are deepening my entrepreneurial reach.

I recommend both Sara and Oliver for marketing and design work, respectively; and I encourage you to reach out them directly.
They are extraordinary!

I’m especially pleased to share that my 10+ year old writers’ group, “Saskatoon Freelancers’ Roundtable,” has submitted our fourth and final collective article in the “Ask a Writers’ Group” series, for this year’s quarterly issues of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild magazine (SWG), “Freelance.”

In all, Ashleigh Mattern, Julie Barnes, Adele Paul, Ashlyn George and I have co-authored four articles on topics such as time management, how to find clients, writerly resources and more. Each of us (when available) has taken a turn at editing these group articles for SWG’s online magazine.

“Freelance” magazine’s publications coordinator, Sheila Fehr, has responded warmly to our contributions and it’s been lovely to see them in digital format!

Special thanks to Ashleigh Mattern for managing correspondence, negotiating the contract for the series and for submitting the article I edited, on my behalf.
Alumni (or “alum” as some prefer) of the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship (PSE), take note: You are warmly invited to attend a late summer potluck lunch at the PSE’s downtown office (131 Wall Street). Date: TBA–soon!

Camaraderie, friendships and business contracts have all transpired from alumni networking. And working on the PSE alumni directory still interests many of us.

Rumour has it (haha!) that alum Barry Frain, Megan Kent, Christina Cherneskey, Jolene Watson, Sheridan Trusty and Cody Demarais (frequent PSE flyers) may attend, bringing some favourite cooking to share.

Stay tuned to this newsletter (and upcoming blog issues) for details!
AND . . . if you, or someone you know, is wanting to start–or grow–a business in SK, please get in  touch with the PSE’s Administrator, Elaine Mantyka; or Coordinator, Silvana Cracogna; at (306) 664-0500 or by email at

Funding opportunities are available, as are accommodations for entrepreneurs with differing abilities. PSE Chief Visionary Office Monica Kreuger, and Chief Facilitator Deanna Litz will transform how you think about entrepreneurship–and life!

Intake occurs regularly, but seats fill up quickly. So contact the PSE—NOW!
Thank you to some of my ESL students, past and present, including William Wang, Eliane Gaume,  Maryna Kostiuk and to former mentor, Mahmoud Allouch, for providing testimonials for my ESL teaching services that I recently uploaded to my website.

Reading these individuals’ reviews is both humbling and encouraging.

Thank you to each of you!

Do you have news to share on topics of language and communication or on entrepreneurship in Saskatoon (and surrounding areas)?
Please reach out to me and I’ll try to include it in a future issue!



Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help economic immigrants get better jobs or secure larger contracts by improving their language skills; and I also write and edit the legacy stories of individuals and major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website. After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information ( .