BOOK EXCERPT

Language has always evolved over time. Why can’t the internet teach us a new vocabulary?

In a new book, the copy chief at Buzzfeed argues for easing up on the rigidity of language.

I’m often asked by my colleagues, of certain funny or strange words, “Is this a real word?” Of course it is – you just used it. It was crafted using characters that create a sound we both recognise and a meaning we both understand. It is not a hologram; we can write it on a piece of paper and hold it close to us for as long as we’d like. It will not dissolve into thin air. We are simply never going to live in a world in which new words aren’t regularly emerging and shifting in use.

And if you prefer to live in such a stagnant, miserable world, I’m sure there are plenty of open positions for Latin and ancient Greek language teachers for which you can immerse yourself in years-long study to be qualified.

In Internet Linguistics, in fact, David Crystal introduces the possibility that English spelling will shift to rid itself of unnecessary letters: “It may well be that Internet users, voting (as it were) with their fingers, will introduce simplifications of the kind the reform movement has so long desired, such as the dropping of silent letters” – for instance, “mnemonic” eventually being spelled acceptably as “nemonic”. And I am here 
for it. I mean, doesn’t “phlem” just look so much more pleasant?

As American lexicographer Erin McKean, in her TEDYouth TED Talk, said, “My job is not to decide what a word is; that is your job. Everybody who speaks English decides together what’s a word and what’s not a word. Every language is just a group of people who are trying to understand each other...Words in English are like Lego: If you use enough force, you can put any two of them together.”

McKean tells a roomful of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kids to “make words because every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across. And new words grab people’s attention.” What a beautiful world we live in – one in which our youth are being encouraged to celebrate the creation of as many new words as they see it! Your middle-school English teachers could never. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got some work left to do.

It’s part of the reason why Urban Dictionary (gasp) is quite often a helpful resource. The crowdsourced site keeps up with new slang almost instantaneously – in a way a “real” dictionary doesn’t have the functionality to, by inviting the people driving language trends (aka teens) to submit entries for these words and phrases and users to up-vote the ones they agree with.

And so if you’re not sure what that “savage AF” meme is all about, there’s a seventeen-year-old from Nebraska who’s got you covered.

“Vogue words tend to irritate people who aren’t in the group that the vogue words are meant to signal inclusion with, possibly because part of the whole point is to exclude people who aren’t in that group,” says Wallace in Quack This Way. (See: swarms of teens and twenty-somethings leaving Facebook for Snapchat as soon as their parents and grandparents found out about the former and started slinging – and misusing – things like “lol,” “tbt,” and maybe even “bae”.) Basically? Don’t be a hater just because you’re old and uncool. Every generation has their own set of trendy words or phrases. To write off new terms that you wouldn’t ordinarily use or that you’re wholly unfamiliar with as being ridiculous or as proof that our language is slowly but surely breaking down is to ignore the fundamental fact that language always evolves. And that teenagers will always find a way to distance themselves linguistically from their parents, and then slightly older people will catch on to all the cool new words, after which the teens will recoil in secondhand embarrassment upon hearing the olds use their words and immediately pick up new words the twenty- and thirty-somethings aren’t yet hip to. And the cycle will continue, forever and ever. Or until we’re communicating exclusively in emojis (but probably even then).

Life is short; let everyone speak the way they want to speak. I’m sure adults weren’t too thrilled when bee’s knees hit the scene either, but much like not having a cow, if these phrases don’t stick around for the long run – or devolve into silly, ironic-only use over time – they at the very least are a marker of the spirit of the time. See also: a Prohibition-era newsman smoking a cigar, talking about a Jane who’s simply the cat’s pajamas. Words can be artefacts as well, and their study is fascinating.

There was once a time when “party pooper” and “hauling ass” were new on the scene too, so let “yaaass queen” be to the 2010s what “totally tubular” was in the 1980s.

Either the post-ironic use of squads getting “turnt AF” will become limited to an older, kinda losery niche group trying to hang on to relevancy as they find themselves wandering about, lost and scared, trying to stay afloat among the newest wave of slang words, or these terms will live on, tolerable in moderation, in our everyday lexicon. (Bet the parents of the 1920s never thought scram and baloney would have staying power, but here we are.) Or they’ll fade quickly – “Eat my shorts,” anyone? – and we’ll all shudder at the thought of once using them in earnest. Wait it out for a minute, and in the meanwhile, let us live.

Excerpted with permission from A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzfeed Age, Emmy J Favilla, Bloomsbury.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900

Fashion

If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.