Speech. It’s, like, evolving

War of words because speech is like, you know, evolving

  • by:Kylie Lang
  • From:         The Sunday Mail (Qld)
  • July 14, 201312:00

big bang theory

It’s evolution: The word geekery has entered the Oxford dictionary, perhaps thanks to the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Source: The Sunday Mail (Qld)

OMIGOD, it’s incredible how often we, like, use words in strange ways, hey?

Here, in one sentence, we have four pet peeves of readers annoyed at the corruption of the English language.

There are many more.

Michael, of Highgate Hill, says it is impossible for teenage girls to start any sentence without “omigod”.

Julie-Anne, of the Gold Coast, objects to the inane use of the word “like”.

“My son uses it with gusto, often in the same sentence as ‘you know’, but my point is that it should just be dropped entirely,” she says.

“When I try to correct him, he says: ‘Are you telling me it is, like, poor form?’

“No, wee grasshopper, I am telling you it is poor form.”

Julie-Anne says many words have lost their meaning.

Take “incredible”.

“Whenever I consider that Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott occupy the top leadership positions in this country, incredible is indeed the word that springs to mind,” she says.

“Yet if someone told either of them that they were incredible, they would certainly say ‘thanks!’.”

To incredible, I’d like to add a few irritants of my own: the misuse of unique, nonplussed, disinterested and decimate.

And how many people don’t know, or can’t be bothered learning, the difference between less and fewer, me and I, lay and lie, me and myself.

Jim, of Carina, is upset by the flippancy with which we use “love”.

“We love cake, rugby league and sleeping in but why dilute the most powerful emotion a human being can have?”

Jim’s got a point. To borrow from Tina Turner: What’s love got to do with it?

Language, however, adapts and evolves. It responds to changes in society. If it didn’t, we’d still be speaking as they did in Shakespeare’s time: “O, learn to read what silent love hath writ”.

Instead, the vernacular is thick with slang: “awesome” one minute is “sick” the next.

Through language, we seek and find commonality; it’s a way of fitting in.

Finishing sentences with a perfunctory “eh” or “hey” is distinctively Queensland, and while it irritates some of us – Sally from Cairns says it “grates like fingernails down a blackboard” – it signals belonging to a tribe.

Language and culture are intertwined, and the digital age is accelerating the pace of linguistic change.

Author Tom Chatfield, in Netymology: From Apps to Zombies: A Linguistic Celebration of the Digital World, says text messages and social media are not dumbing us down; rather, they’re making us think and interpret.

Through acronyms such as LOL (laugh out loud) and emoticons such as smiley faces, we try to relay broader feelings, not just words, in the absence of face-to-face communication.

Chatfield says it’s naive to think modern techniques are “turning people into idiots”.

Learning to read critically is extremely important in an age where billions of people engage on-screen and across geographical borders.

“It’s only in the last 75 years that the world has hit 50 per cent adult literacy, and now more than six billion people have mobile phones and two billion are internet connected – all of these people are participating as authors,” he says.

With so much data to interpret, I guess it’s no wonder we are inventing words to capture how we are feeling in the digital age.

“Empticate” (empty + vindicate) is to give someone what they want long after they’ve accepted you were never going to give it to them.

“Respasion” (responsibility evasion) is when you avoid listening to voicemails, opening emails, reading texts.

The Emotionary – a website at the-emotionary.com created by US actor Eden Sher to help people voice incomprehensible feelings – has many more such creations, and people can add to them at will.

Traditional dictionaries are also adapting.

Last month, geekery was among 1200 new or revised words added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Fans of TV’s The Big Bang Theory will be familiar with its modern incarnation, which eclipses the origins of the word for bizarre circus acts.

Last year, the Collins online dictionary added “amazeballs”, an expression of enthusiastic approval.

Purists might arc up, but there is little point.

I’m not saying we should accept a drop in standards – a teacher told my friend last week that he shouldn’t worry about his kid’s poor spelling because spelling wouldn’t matter in a few years – but we should see language for what it is, and always has been.

It’s fluid, dynamic and a reflection of our time.

How awesome is that?

Kylie Lang is the editor of Qweekend, every Saturday in The Courier-Mail


2 thoughts on “Speech. It’s, like, evolving

  1. A lot of todays neologisms arise from not only social media but also in the entertainment world with tv shows coining new words that then spread to social media

  2. I think the semantic evolution of words like ‘incredible’ and ‘unique’ is unavoidable and probably quite healthy. We have seen the evolution of word such as ‘apple’, ‘girl’ and ‘meat’. Their meanings have changed from being more general terms to having quite specific meanings. The change in language is inevitable and we should embrace it, rather than get miffed and complain about semantic changes in meaning.

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