According to Oxford Dictionaries on its “Save The Words” site, “90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words.”
As an editor, I read many instances of authors resorting to describing with familiar words something that could be described by one, most of the time because they don’t know what that word is. Just as often, I’m forced to let those instances stand, because that one word is so obscure today that even in context it won’t be understood by most of the author’s readers. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve needed to look a word up while reading contemporary literature, be it online or offline.
I’m also seeing something that could be called the “green” movement in English: many common words are being reduced, reused, and recycled, as we’ve seen with “friend,” “heart,” and “action” the verb. There are familiar words transmogrified into new usages that, although subject to ridicule, are used more commonly than we like to admit in some circles, like “deliverables,” “pushback,” and the terrible-to-behold corporate verbs “incent” and “action.”
These words and many like them are just as familiar as the “real” words they’re standing in for, but because they’re stand-ins, we have to wonder why.
Is it creative or lazy to “friend” someone instead of “befriending” them? As current usage stands, their meanings are the same.
Is it part of a global dialect being created by people who communicate over long geographical, social, generational, and lexical distances feeling the need to ensure they’re understood by using “old” words in a new way?
Is the verb “action” used by people who want to put a more dynamic picture in our minds than “process,” “implement,” or “do?”
Wonder with me. What do you think is the aim of repurposing words that already have such a well-used past? What do you think will be the result?
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Shakirah, I'm such a lover of words and grammar, probably because I spoke Finnish first, and then had to learn English when I went to school. It gave me such an appreciation of the written and spoken word, and I find it fascinating (and sometimes a little disconcerting) to see the constant evolution of language to meet "changing times", with a loss, sometimes, of beautiful words and phrases.
I think the result will be what it continues to be: an ever-changing, ever-evolving, imperfect jargon, where understanding and misunderstanding will be equally rampant in the written and spoken word. Cheers! Kaarina
I love that you're asking these questions! Thinking about, commenting on, and talking about words will only lead to new and exciting discoveries in language. How and why we communicate are considerations just as important as *what* we communicate. Sometimes words are like cozy sweatpants to me. When I'm informally chatting with a friend and I'm not "on guard" against making editorial errors, I overuse and abuse "really"--like nobody's business! "I'm REALLY excited about working with this new client." "I've been REALLY tired lately." "Are you REALLY going to wear that?" Amazing how this little word seems to ... fit me at that moment. Just like my old, tired, but still-going-strong sweats.
I like the precision of language, how changing a word to a different synonym can really change the meaning or tone of a statement, based upon different cultures and connotations. Technology certainly has an impact, as does various forms of culture. Google has become a verb and I get what you mean if you call yourself a marketing or social media "Jedi." (I also think it's funny that LF doesn't know how to spell Jedi. Heh.) Hmm, still thinking about the evolution of words and language; I know I used the word 'appreciate' once that the reader didn't get my context; she thought I meant it as "like, gratitude" and I meant it as "understand, comprehend." Totally changed the tone of our email conversation, FWIW.
I think so many of the word changes stem from social changes: larger acceptance of social media and even a greater societal understanding of business - hence the adoption of corporate jargon into everyday speak (which I really don't like). I'm recalling trendy business words like "dashboard" (to me, this was on a car) and "bandwidth" (um... this is tech/scientific term that biz folks decided was oh-so-popular to use to convey the word "ability"). Makes you wonder how these terms catch on. Perhaps it's the journalist's fault - i.e. he writes a biz article using a word a bit differently, the next journalist uses it, the reader uses it, then the colleague uses it? Then it trickles down to non-biz folks? I'm a purist, though. I like the English language and want it to retain some integrity, but I know this is not how the world works. Change is inevitable.
It seems like a lot of the words morph into being from corporate or tech lingo being used and also giving it a more modern appeal. However, I have to go with transmogrified as my huh? word of the day. Thanks for making me smarter ma'am.....:)
It's so interesting to me when words are re-purposed or invented or used in new ways -- one of the things I find so interesting about language is that it's constantly changing and morphing. I don't know if it's creative or just the way things change in how we use or do things, and consequently how language changes, or that we are just shortening things for convenience.... like "text me" or "photoshop it in" For something like "friend me," it seems a little different because it's a term actually coined by FB so to say "befriend" would not technically be accurate. By the way, I like calling it the green movement, very cool!
I think a very, very few cases make sense - such as 'friend' when you're using it explicity in the context of Facebook. When you mean it in some other context, then 'befriend' or 'make friends with' is much better. Otherwise, the misuse/re-purposing of words drives me to total distraction. For example, for decades I worked in the field of 'Information Security' -- now it has become 'Information Assurance.' First, there's absolutely no need for a new term for this field. Second, and equally important, is that 'assurance' is absolutely NOT the right word! You clearly do not simply want to pat someone on the shoulder and say, "There, there. Your information is going to be just fine. Don't worry your pretty little head for a tiny second about it." There is already enough confusion among the 'sure' words -- ensure, insure, and assure -- without introducing a totally new twist. Further, if different people have different meanings for the same word, that makes communication so much more difficult. There are already plenty of words that have multiple meanings, and using them can introduce ambiguity, so why add to this problem? Further, over time, writers of today will be misunderstood by readers of tomorrow. It's one thing not be be able to readily decipher Beowulf; it's quite another not to be able to understand something written 10 years ago, by a writer who may even still be alive. Language is initially totally arbitrary - at some time some one decided that 'chair' is the word to describe a particular type of furniture that you sit on. But once a word acquires a shared understanding, there's really no need to change its definition, or to come up with a new word that means the same thing.
I don't know a lot about repurposing words but I've noticed how younger people use words like "sweet' and "cool" and :"good:" Words become devalued over time (this fascinates me). As a child I was encouraged to be a "good" girl. I was SUCH a good girl that I swore I'd never encourage my kids with that word. It became devalued for me. So it was ironic to me that in later years the response i heard from my kids when I asked a question, rather than "no" was , 'I'm good." I even use that response myself!
How do these things evolve? How does "sweet" now mean cool, awesome, wonderful? LOL Gotta love the English language, except when it's massacred by journalists in particular who should have a good command of it (there's my rant, but I'm not in a ranting mood so I'll just leave it there!)
7000 words you say? Makes me want to find a site where I can learn a word a day!