“Morphing. Language evolves. The meaning of a word can shift over time as we use it differently….”
This latest of WordPress’ ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’ goes on to invite me to give a common word a new meaning, explain it and use it in the title of the post.
This is a temptation to be resisted. Firstly, it would require some imagination on my part, which is about as likely to occur as a rainbow in the Atacama Desert. Secondly, it would involve consciously passing up the opportunity for a rant.
Yes of course, language is dynamic. All of us use some words in different contexts and with different meanings than they may have had previously. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This is English we’re talking about, not Sanskrit or Etruscan, and like it or not – and I think the views of the Academie Francaise on this one are pretty well known – it is arguably the global language. As such, it is natural that it should develop as a living thing, adapting to the varieties of environment in which it is spoken.
“Cool’, ‘heavy’ and ‘far out’ were probably the most common words invested with new meaning that I used myself (this probably tells you all you need to know. Man.) but the list is endless and continually expanding.
If I had any desire to be ‘down with the kids’, as I believe the expression goes, I would be bandying around words like ‘wicked’ and ‘sick’ beyond the context of my….well, let’s just say sense of humour, shall we, and leave it at that.
Other words with new meanings? How about ‘twitter’ and ‘spam’?
There’s really no problem with new meanings for old words. What I struggle to deal with in a calm and rational way (warning: rant alert) is when a perfectly good noun gets forced into service as a verb. ‘Impact’: noun. ‘Task’: noun. Not difficult.
And don’t even get me started on mixing up adjectives and adverbs. Nothing is more guaranteed to get me spitting venom at my TV set than some idiot not knowing, just ignoring – or, worst of all, not even caring about – the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’. Oh, just look it up.
Yes and while we’re at it: greengrocers’ apostrophe’s and gratuitous exclamation marks!!!!!
As language evolves, it also expands.There are plenty of words now in common usage that didn’t even exist twenty years ago. Consider ’email’ (which, somewhat confusingly, in French means ‘enamel’) or ‘google’ (other search engines are available).
Modern technology inevitably calls for new words (unless, again, you’re the Academie Francaise – or the Government of Quebec). Just because there’s no reference to ‘telephone’ in Shakespeare or the King James Bible doesn’t make it invalid. The same goes for ‘hip-hop’, although there the justification is less clear-cut.
Shakespeare himself is said to have invented over 1,700 new words. As it happens, ‘rant’ is one of them. And we can just gloss over the fact that many of these new words were created by turning nouns into verbs (‘undress’) and verbs into adjectives (‘laughable’). Well, he was Shakespeare and we’re not, so that’s okay.
So in principle there’s absolutely nothing wrong with new words.