04 September 2011


I have previously suggested that durian is a word that has been borrowed into English from Malay. In Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, that is clearly true. But what about in the USA, UK and Australia? Is durian a word of English for people there?In the top-right frame of the cartoon (printed in The Brunei Times of 4 September 2011, page B16), the man refers to 'that pointy fruit that smells like feet'. Either he does not know the word durian, or for the moment he can't remember it.

So, should durian be regarded as a word of English or not? How many people need to be familiar with a word for it to be listed as a word of English? This is not an easy question to answer. My New Webster's Dictionary lists durian, but that does not mean the dictionary is right.

The issue of what constitutes a word in English is complex, and that is why it is essentially meaningless to claim that English now has one million words (as some people have done). Instead, we need to acknowledge that there are many different Englishes in the world, not just based on place but also on register (legal English, medical English, scientific English, etc); and durian is a word in some of these varieties and not others.