You'll have to pardon me for not posting regularly this past week. I have been swamped with jobs, travel, kids, and some rather time-consuming issues regarding the house we live in. I haven't forgotten to write--I simply haven't had the time to rework and then edit what I've got. So in light of some constraints on time, I'll borrow from my friend David who wrote a beautiful comment after my discussion of the word impact last week. With his permission, his words are reprinted here, where I thought they fit better than in a little comment box. Another reader also posted beautifully, but her comments are already published, her quoted reference to "dumb shadows" still haunting me in the way that poetic language does. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your beautiful honesty of describing when she learned the true meaning of dumb.
In response to the discussion about the changing use of words, David wrote:
This is why I envy my sister, as she has a full copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The nature of all language is that it evolves along with the society it is embedded in. As I frequently have to explain to my eldest son, who has a great dislike of words such as "knife", because, according to him, they have extra letters, our language did not emerge from the hills of England, fully formed like Boticelli's Venus, but (has) evolved of centuries of trial and error. Someone once said that English evolved because Norman Frenchmen were trying to pick up Anglo Saxon barmaids. To some extent this is true, and just like the results of such trysts, our language has many bastardized kludges that suggest that it wasn't easy.
American English is also evolving away from the more formal queen's diction, given not only the influences from our own version of linguistic "genetic drift", but the inclusion of more Romance derived languages such as Spanish, and to a lesser extent Portuguese . We may even find the infiltration of Chinese and Hindi as power and population trends change. Technology is also a big influence as well. "Jawbone", "Bluetooth", "Phone", "Tablet", and "Pad" are all changing their meaning. Also we "email", or "ping". We can "text" or "chat".
Max and I were discussing this morning about pay phones, phone booths, and their disappearance. He couldn't understand that once upon a time, phones were big bulky affairs that required a land connection. In another generation, I would be willing to bet that phone booth disappears from everyday English. As man continues to evolve, so will his languages. Once upon a time, the lingua franca of business was Latin, then French. At the time of the Revolution, most of the founding fathers were fluent in not only English, but Latin, Greek, and to some extent French. Jefferson had also mastered Hebrew as well. It was only with the rise of the British Empire and the eventual ascendance of the American Republic, that English has usurped French as the language of commerce, though in this hemisphere it may soon take a back seat to Spanish. But let's face it in those parts around the fondly remembered woody groves of Oxford (Mississippi), you are more likely to hear a conversation like this: "Hey y'all, youwanna commonback to the house overtheyar?" "Naw, Igottaget, momanem need me."
How lovely that David and his son discuss language. I certainly hope his boy inherits David's skill with words and aptitude for drawing parallels of things with time, space, history, and relationships. I think it's wonderful that anyone would want to meet the subject of changing vocabulary head-on, particularly when spicier pop-culture topics lead the headlines (Kardashian's? Excuse me?). But I digress and must return where I belong--a spacious desk in an office filled with the light that bounces off the wooded lot outside. An afternoon of "post-it-noting" and such awaits. ;)