In the Trenches: New Words I Learned today

New words are something of a rarity for me. It is not often I find myself saying, “Self, what does that word mean?”

Overall, my vocabulary is rather impressive, though not in evidence around here. I used to do the London Times crossword with my grandfather – in ink. And when I’m feeling cocky I’ll grab a NYT Sunday crossword and crack out the pen.

However, all that horn-blowing aside, I found myself hopping over to Wikipedia today – twice. And that, for me, is something to note.

Mainly I went to make sure what I thought the word meant was indeed the accepted definition. One case yes. One case no.

This is where all of this ties into querying, language.

After all, we wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t have some perverse need to chase exactly the right word out of the bushes of the dictionary pages and into our manuscript. So language is not just something that we use to communicate between friend A and friend B, or to ask for no pickles on our hamburger, please. Language, for us, is a tool of our trade.

So what happens when language starts to morph faster than society can keep up with it?

In particular, today I’m thinking about one of the words that I had to go look up. Thank goodness for the urban dictionary. Without that little piece of the Internet, I would be lost in many of today’s conversations. A particular area I would find befuddling are the acronyms turned words.

Yes, I understand that texting has somewhat removed vowels from the English language. And that the idea of actually forming a complete grammatically correct sentence in a text is abhorrent to most of the 00 generation. To those who would rather write BRB or LOL or IYKYK – all I can say is “Text to type is your friend.”

Not that I expect I’m going to change anybody’s mind. But then again, I’m not out to change anybody’s mind. So there.

Back to the proliferation of the English language as pertains to social interactions and social media. English has always been a language that borrowed from other languages. Indeed, a favorite T-shirt I have seen says English is a language to follow you down dark alleyways and club unsuspecting languages over the head to look through their pockets for loose grammar. Or something of that sort.

Having studied some early Welsh, early French, early medieval English, Elizabethan English and other sources, such as a smattering of Latin and Greek, I have to agree. For example, there’s a great Norse example of the word for a ‘wind’ ‘eye’, (vindauga) becoming the common English word ‘window’.

Language is always in flux, none seeming more flexible than English. (Yes, yes, people will argue this, but then people feel the need to argue over pineapple on pizza as if it was red letter important.)

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the generation of new words into the English language has accelerated over the last two decades, especially with social media and international influences funneling in new words almost hourly, and with every typo. Thus, I’m feeling a bit like I need to check the meaning of words – not so much in formal parlance, but in the lingo used between various camps. Heaven help you if you confuse a TERP with a TERF – not that I suspect you could.
One being a terrapin, a reptile encased in a hard shell common to the Maryland shore, and the other being a reptile self-imposing a hard shell to exclude perceived threats.

Ok. That’s closer than I thought. But, the social image between the two terms is vast. Almost as if you were looking at two completely different universes.

And I seem to have wandered a good bit afield in this particular musing. Allow me to draw it to a very untidy end and say that the explosion of language is creating a bit of a minefield for the author these days. Or, for anyone who wishes to be understood.

I’ll have to revisit this topic later, when my mental ducks are better organized.

2 responses to “In the Trenches: New Words I Learned today”

  1. You are not alone! I’m often befuddled by bizarre (and unnecessary) acronyms, words that have morphed into meanings completely contrary to their origins, and other perfectly (previously) normal and accepted words that have somehow become verboten.

    I’m all for continuing to learn new things – it’s a joy! – but is there a rulebook to help us keep up with the ever-faster language shifts?

    • You’ve put your finger on something that I really struggle with… When a word, a perfectly good word, is deemed verboten – not because of the word itself, but because of the illiteracy of the audience.

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