On Language & Change

(Image: canva.com)

This is difficult for me to accept, but accept it I must.

Language is fluid and ever changing. It’s a slow change, but it’s a change, nonetheless.

While we might codify the language in textbooks and dictionaries, those are merely snapshots. Language continues to evolve in completely unpredictable ways.

Many years ago someone told my mom that she spoke “old-fashioned” Dutch. The language had continued to evolve in her homeland after her emigration. Her Dutch, spoken mostly only between herself and my father, remained stagnant at roughly the 1952 level. 30 or more years later, her usage had not kept pace with the changes back home.

Language evolution doesn’t always make sense.

Consider that “literally” can now (literally) mean “figuratively”. Somehow that a word might mean both its classic definition and its opposite, depending on context, is nonsensical. And yet that’s where we are.

Something awesome may not involve awe.

Not to mention so many words whose meaning has been “repurposed” in the age of the internet. Words like firehose, catfish, ping, troll, and so many more.

And of course words like “‘puter” for computer, or “lappy” for laptop — terms replaced with some diminutive form. Or “Insta” for Instagram, because apparently using all three syllables is just too difficult when two will suffice.

To quote a Star Trek villain, “resistance is futile”.

We are powerless to stop language change from happening. We’re powerless in even setting its direction.

We can pout, stomp our virtual feet, complain, or insist on sticking to only The One True Usage (as we see it), but it’s all for naught. Change happens, whether or not we agree.

Language is defined by its usage, not books of rules.

But I must admit — ‘puter and lappy really grind, and make it hard for me to take questions using those terms seriously.

Get off my lawn.

6 thoughts on “On Language & Change”

  1. The ten year old book “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” brings some level of understanding to the problem of intergenerational communication.

  2. One change that is jarring to me is using “I” in place of “me”. In sentences like “He gave it to Susan and I.” The only way that sounds right to me is “He gave it to Susan and me.” (Would you say “He gave it to I”?) The first time I heard this was in the 1990s. Now it’s said quite often in movies, on TV and in daily intercourse.

    I guess it might have something to do with seeing Susan and myself as a unit – Susan and I.

    And, as you note, it’s just something that has to be accepted.

    • I don’t know. I’m 72 years old, and in school we were taught “he and I”——never he and me. “Susan and me” would be incorrect. “He gave it to Susan and me” sounds wrong to me. It doesn’t flow well. Must be a generational thing.

      • I think one of the things we were taught was that language does not change. That’s probably appropriate for kids in school, so they don’t claim exemptions from learning the current set of rules. But it’s also wrong, and something I think we all struggle with at times. Perhaps that biggest lesson is that language will change. Period. Regardless of what we were taught.

  3. I’m quite a curmudgeon about most of this. I try not to correct anyone (it’s not worth losing a friend). But in my head it is not okay. The language I learned in school from some excellent teachers has served me well and I’m fine sticking with it, in part to honor those educators. (A sunset can be awesome. A tuna sandwich probably is not. So there.)

Comments are closed.