Today, we are seeing a transformation of English right before our very eyes. For example, I keep hearing that “whom” is no longer necessary. It is perfectly correct to say, “Who spoke to who?” rather than “Who spoke to whom?” I think this is a case where mass ignorance has finally worn down the guardians of the rules of grammar …whomever they may be.
Some words, that have been dormant for years, appear to be coming into common usage. For example, back in 1987, one of the words on my “Word of the Day” calendar was “ubiquitous” (Adjective: Present, appearing, or found everywhere.) Eager to use my new favorite word, I tried it out, only to be met with disdain. People were put off that I would use such a fancy word ….and one not commonly understood. However, by 1995, I started hearing it used more commonly …and now it appears to be fairly ubiquitous (you saw that coming, didn’t you?)
Then there are the $20 words that you only hear from newscasters and college professors. Words like “promulgate” and “juxtaposition.” You have a good understanding what they mean based on syntax, but you have probably never used them yourself. These words seem to linger but never enter the mainstream.
I have to wonder about words that are commonly misused. People commonly use the term “ironic” when talking about things which are merely “coincidental.” Or “penultimate” to indicate “greater than great” rather than “next to the last.” I wonder if, in another 100 years, these words will change meaning to match the misuse?
Sometimes, it only takes a few years to see a new word emerge. I’m not talking about words like “Internet” and “cyberspace” that originated from the need to make reference to something new. I am talking about words that enter the public domain by accident. In recent years, Republicans, running for high public office, appear to have a penchant for adding words to the English language. Last July, Sarah Palin tweeted the word “refudiate” (I suppose she intended to say “repudiate”) and found herself the butt of many jokes. Rather than admit her mistake, she claimed it was a typo … despite the fact that the “f” key and the “p” are half a keyboard apart.
However, Palin may have the last laugh. “Refudiate” has been named New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2010 and the latest addition to its official lexicon: refudiate, verb used loosely to mean “reject”.
In case you are interested, “Misunderestimate” and “Refudiate” are portmanteau words – ones that blend syllables and meanings to novel effect – in Mrs Palin’s case, from “refute” and “repudiate”.
Irregardless (I know….there is no such word…yet), it is easy to see how changes to languages can evolve. In my next post, we will talk about the changes being wrought by Social Media.