This rather obscure word is in the spotlight with the Times Online campaign last September to save “endangered words”, ie, those due to be zapped from the next edition of the Collins Dictionary. Agrestic has never had a great following – recorded only twice in Oxford Dictionary citations since the 17th century – which helps to explain why alternative forms have popped up: agrestical, agrestial, agrestal with even slimmer records. The root agr- in all of them is the same as that of “agriculture”, referring to farming and the country life, and agrestic has been used to conjure up both the rural paradise and the uncouthness of rustic citizens. The surprise champion of agrestic in the Times campaign is perfumier David Pybus, who says that the word “gives to our aromatic minds a sense of hay, meadows, fields, earth after rainfall ... and the like”. The public will need his specifications for the word, otherwise there’s a slight risk of it being taken to mean the less attractive aromas down on the farm.
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