Language is neat

EY6FLQ4 - Imgur

The ‘sentence’ in that caption, is perfectly clear to young people today (and getting-old types like myself, too), even without the context of the picture. Yet, as little as 20 years ago it would be complete nonsense, and 20 years from now it will probably rejoin the incomprehensible. But we also have classics written hundreds of years of go that people still read with complete clarity today, and books written today that would be easily understood by people of centuries past.

It’s like we have two languages, one solid and long lasting, and another ephemeral and ever-changing. The second language experiments, invents and changes–while the main language stays as strong as it can. This allows us to maintain comprehensibility over the generations, while still allowing for evolution–since the best words created by the second language will make it into the main language eventually.

Creating new words is fascinating and cool to watch–but changing current words kind of grinds my gears. I know everyone on the internet and their moms and dogs have all had their say about how dumb it is that ‘literally’ now literally means figuratively, because people used it hyperbolically so often. The problem with this is that instead of creating a new word, we lost a word. Because ‘literally’ no longer means ‘I am not exaggerating or being metaphorical but am actually saying this.’ Now it means ‘maybe I mean this, maybe I don’t. You have to guess by the context.’ We have lost a word for that situation where we want to make it clear we are being literal. We still have ‘actually’ but who knows how long that will last. ‘Literally’ has lost its hyperbolic power, so now people might start saying “I laughed so hard I actually died.”

A similar thing happened to ‘begs the question,’ which people say when they mean ‘raises the question.’ Though, this was not due to being hyperbolic, but to people trying to sound smart and not knowing the meaning of what they were saying.

This kind of ‘change by misuse’ irritates me. But what can you do? Just be irritated, I guess!




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