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Our Ever-Changing Language

I find words and language very interesting.

I often hear others complain when it’s used wrongly. But what is wrong when it comes to language? Language is a funny thing, it’s ever growing and changing. What we think is right today may have been completely wrong in earlier development and equally wrong a few years from now. This isn’t my first blog about this and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

Let me just give a few examples of how English words have changed over the course of time.

Spinster: Now it means an “unmarried woman”, often not in a not so positive way. It used to mean something completely different. It came from a device called a spinster. This tool was used by those who made cloth. The word soon began to be used to indicate the occupation of a person, mostly women, that spun cloth for a living.

Awful: Now this word means very bad or unpleasant. Years ago this word used to refer to things “worthy of awe”. This is how we get expressions like “the awful majesty of God.”

Hussy: In Old English, this is how housewife was pronounced. It was a word of honor used in referring to the mistress of a household.  If you look it up in a dictionary today, the only definition you’ll find is “an impudent or immoral girl or woman.”

Silly and Nice: These two words have literally swapped meanings. Nice used to mean something silly or foolish. Silly was used to refer to something worthy or blessed. You won’t find those definitions in the dictionary now.

This is one reason why I get really annoyed when I hear those of us from the “older crowd” correcting the way those in the “younger crowd” change the meaning of a word they come to use differently. Yes, I have been guilty of this myself, but hopefully, I’m learning…

Now, I do realize there are and have to be rules. But language is one of those things that, in its very nature, is always growing, changing and breaking those rules. If you don’t believe me, pick up an original copy of Shakespeare or even an original King James Version of the Bible. I can promise you that, unless you are practiced in reading Old English literature, you’ll struggle to understand it. There are words in these copies that haven’t been used in lifetimes or have completely changed meaning as those noted above. The words bad and wicked are used to mean the same as cool and far out were used in the ‘60s. Neither of which are used to mean the real meaning of the word.

In recent years, technology has progressed, and in doing so, a whole new revolution in the English language has developed. This has transpired to the dismay and objections of “us older folk.”

English has always been a letter based language. Other Languages, such as Chinese, are symbol based. Recently, however, you could make the argument that, in some cases, letters are beginning to be used as symbols. With the development of computers, and especially mobile phones, many common words and phrases are being replaced with a letter representing an entire word. It has been called text speech, SMS language, textese, or text talk, and has gained in popularity over the last two decades. Some are commonly used by all. Even my 82-year-old Mom and Dad will be seen to use lol when responding to something on Facebook.

Many of these new symbols in writing are something that others dislikes, however. Just last week I saw a post on FB (Facebook for those that don’t read “text speech”) about how upset they were over the use of “k” instead of using “ok.”

“Does it take that much longer to type the “o” before the “k?” they questioned.

I thought it quite ironic that they used the spelling of “ok” instead of “okay.” They also used a shorter version of the very word that they were troubled others were shortening.

What’s the correct spelling anyway? I find it spelled “ok” on the TV remote, and the Webster’s Dictionary gives several different spellings of the word. (Okay, OK, O.K., ok, o.k.) As a matter of fact, there have been many abbreviations for words and phrases for decades; it has become so accepted that they’re even used in legal documents. (AAR, AC, ALD, CMLR, FLC, FLC) and medical documents (ABX, ACCU, CHD, CHO), some of these have even become commonly used in our everyday speech (AKA, COPD, ASAP) and very few people ever call a television anything but a TV anymore.

I believe text talk is here to stay. Not only that but, since this is used so widely by the younger generations as they communicate (mostly in text… another word where the meaning has evolved. This time from a noun to a verb.)  I can see this new form of English taking over.

Is that bad news? I don’t think so. Not any more than the way spelling has changed since Shakespeare or even European vs., American English. Who can say that our way of writing is better than Chinese, Hebrew or Russian? It’s just different.

In my opinion, it’s not the way things are spelled or communicated, it’s the fact that they are.

And communication is what sets humans apart.

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