Friday, January 7, 2011

Language, That Squishy Thing

It's bad enough to realize you are thinking inside the box, even worse to know that you're not in the loop. Fifty years ago those phrases would have been unintelligible to anyone in the English-speaking world.

Dictionaries are rather stodgy, fat books; before the Internet, that is. Now we have on-line compendiums adding and subtracting words and phrases faster than you can say, No Problem. The old OED or unabridged Merriam-Webster are useful doorstops but are as obsolete as ink eradicator and White-Out.

Am I out of the box and into the loop yet? I doubt it particularly after hearing some of the new language in the Urban Dictionary. There are now about 5.5 million entrees, at the rate of 20,000 submissions per day. Where does an alien go to register?

Some of the recent phrases now in circulation are: That's what B.P. said as in we'll fix it (and bungle the job). Or: Protohype meaning generating buzz about a new product.

Of course we have the option to ignore all this until we suddenly realize we're speaking a different language than our children and need a translator for movies. I’m sure I was a few years late learning what a wuss was or the word bling.

I suppose words must shrivel and wither away to make room for new ones. We can handle only so many. Then again we are a population of many we's. There are those fluent in Trash or Nerd or Highfalutin Academia...and sub-sets for each.

As a living organism Language requires the oxygen of usage. Some words stick and get absorbed while others have a short season. Most new ones enter from the street or ground level; others from cyberspace and a few from the sciences.

Final thought: Our body of language is no more fixed and sacred than our Constitution. The current Conservative stunt to revere the document of our founding fathers is an attempt to make it immutable rather than a living set of precepts subject to interpretation. They would like us to believe the text was divinely inspired and handed down in some Cecil B. DeMille epic.

Language changes because society evolves with new institutions and relationships calling for decision-making unimaginable to those squabbling statesmen of the Enlightenment. Consider how unrecognizable the hummingbird would be to a dinosaur.

1 comment:

  1. Hi-de ho Norm. I dig it hep cat and am in cahoots totally. When I'm on the Ameche with my smooth kids or in my jalopy draped in my zoot suit catching some swing or ogling grotty hincty that are def not in the groove or wearin neat threads like some stompin rug cutters . . . oh, you dig me.

    Later aligator.