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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Love of Words

Sup? I don't like to say I hate anything (hate is such a strong word), but I really do dislike lazy language and the mispronunciation of words like "supposebly", or incorrect grammar such as "I seen him on the other side of the road." Whenever you see news stories of people in harrowing circumstances, sure enough an eye witness can be counted on to say "I seen...".

Another pet peeve is the over-use of the word "like". "I, like, saw him, like, on the other side of the, like, road. Like." I even prefer 'umm' and 'ahh' over 'like'. But that wasn't a complete sentence, was it? I'm not perfect either; I certainly don't have an English degree, and I often hum and haw over how to write a phrase or a sentence, using spellcheck more than I'm willing to admit. But at least I make an effort to say it or spell it correctly. This is why I consider people lazy when can't take the time to do the same.

The fact of the matter is that language is not a static thing; it changes as we become more global, and continue to evolve. Those poor dictionary people are always having to remove this word, or add that word, and how frustrating is that? They have to contend with those who argue that this word should be put to rest and that one should never be removed.

As for the addition of words, “As soon as we see the word used without explanation or translation or gloss, we consider it a naturalized citizen of the English language,” says Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster. “If somebody is using it to convey a specific idea and that idea is successfully conveyed in that word, it’s ready to go in the dictionary.”

Recently included words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary are edamame and pescatarian (if you don't know them, look them up!). Here is a new word that intrigues me: mondegreen. A mondegreen describes a word that is mistaken for other words, the most common examples found in song lyrics. "Kiss This Guy" is one of the more famous mondegreens. From Jimi Hendrix's song "Purple Haze", the actual phrase was "'scuse me, while I kiss the sky." The word mondegreen comes from an old Scottish ballad in which the lyric “laid him on the green” has been confused over time with “Lady Mondegreen.” Fascinating, no? Well it is to me!

Every year there are publicized lists of new words and words that have become passé and are subsequently removed. The only dictionary that doesn't actually remove words is the Oxford English Dictionary, which has more than 650,000 words and growing.

But a lot of kids especially don't care much for ordinary, boring words so they make their own or shorten the existing ones. The internet and texting (which was caught by my spell check because it isn't considered a verb or even a word!) has made this even more prevalent as they create more and more shorthand words and phrases so they don't have to type or spell too much. "What's up?"morphed into "Whassup?" and now it's simply "Sup?" I use that kind of shorthand too, such as "brb" for "be right back" or "lol" for "laughing out loud".

Another phenomenon is words being used for something other than their original meaning. Words with more than one meaning are called "homographs", but I'm not sure if there is a different word that describes what I mean. I've used one right here in this blog: kid. I remember back when we started to use "kid" instead of "child". A "kid", as many young people may not know, is a baby goat. But the misuse of that word started before my generation. A 70's expression was "mint" for something that was "cool" or "neat". Now it's "sick" or "dope", both of which have a different definition than what they are used for these days. Does somebody have a word for that?

I think I'm going to commit myself to reading more about words and language, since it fascinates me so much. Maybe it'll make me less grumpy next time I hear someone say "I seen him, like, on the other side, like, of the, like, street. He was, like, sick."

IJ