Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a love affair with words. I’m thrilled by their playfulness, rhythm and rhyme, and how the same expression used in one context can convey something entirely different in another.
When I was young, one of my favorite songs that captured that sense of playfulness with words was the “Name Game” by Shirley Ellis.
To me, sharing a common vocabulary has always been a way of establishing a sense of specialness – belonging to a group.
I’ve also observed, somewhat regretfully, that we older adults often tend to make negative judgments about the use of new and unfamiliar words by younger folks. I recall my mother’s strong sense of disdain toward my choice of words when I was a teenager. Like “got screwed”, meaning “cheated out of something”, or “tough”, meaning “great or neat.” In retrospect, I can certainly understand her point of view. She always wanted me put my best foot forward. Since she herself had worked diligently to earn her college degree and was a stickler when it came to appropriate language.
I remember “tough,” “bitchin’” and “wicked” meaning “good” and “wiped out” or “crashed” for “exhausted”, “church key” for “beer opener”, “scarf” meant “eat food very fast” and to call someone “sad” was to show your disapproval or disdain for that person. “Right on” meant “I agree” and “rat fink” or “fink” meant “tattle tale”.
In a recent TED Talk, Anne Curzan, a noted expert in the English language, asked an important question, “Who has the authority to make a word real?” She pointed out that dictionaries are edited by people just like you and me. Even though the Oxford Dictionary and the American Oxford Dictionary have become the final arbiters for what constitutes a real word, the truth is that we each play our role in adopting new words. It seems that frequent use of a newly coined word over time by the public can and often does result in it being included in the dictionary.
As we age, we tend to view new words and the language of younger generations from a retrospective perspective. We forget that words, like the world they describe, must always be evolving if we hope to be able to describe our changing world that includes things like computers, CRISPR, artificial intelligence or climate change
So, what are some of the coolest new words I’ve encountered?
Well, there is “hangry” for those who are cranky or angry because they are hungry. Have you heard someone use “yolo” meaning “you only live once?” Are you aware that “tweet” was only just added to the dictionary? And of course, my favorite these days is “mansplaining,’ explaining something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident manner.
Other words we now take for granted are new additions: “hashtag”, “chad”, “WMD”, “LOL” and “defriend.” Did you know that the “recombobulation area” is the place at the airport where you go after security and begin to put your belt and shoes back on, and place your computer back in its case? “Multi-slacking” is when someone appears to be working because they have several screens open on their computer but are playing a video game in the background.
These days “app” has become a noun, “google” a verb and “e” is a prefix.
So, it’s important to accept that words are like fashion; they wax and wane from one generation to another, often transmuting from one meaning into something entirely new and sometimes the opposite in the span of just a few years.
Perhaps there was a time when grammar, language and word usage evolved at a more languid pace. Those days are gone; like everything else in today’s fast-paced world, vocabulary whirls and twirls like those amusement rides I loved as a kid.
Hang on for the ride; I sure am.
© Tyra Manning, 2018