The Inv3nti0n of W0rd5 — Like “Selfie” and “Bromance”

From a lexicographical point of view, words spring into existence in different ways.

  • Terms can be coined, popularized, forgotten, recycled, or rebranded. For an interesting example of rebranding a word/symbol, watch this video about the Octothorpe.
  • Portmanteaus are created to show how two things together create a newfangled thing (such as frappe + cappuccino = frappuccino). For an excellent poem written almost entirely with portmanteaus, check out this aptly named and truly excellent Portmanterrorism poem by Nick Lantz.
  • With the advent of new technology, relationships, inventions, and ideas come new words, such as the following:
    • Bromance
    • Selfie
    • Frenemy

People generally resist the invention of words. They see made-up words like selfie in the dictionary, and they shake their head at the foolishness of today’s youths which, of course, are WAY worse than the youth in their age. These gosh-durned kids and their internet slang!

People think of slang as the lower class form of communication. For a measure, that’s true. People who aren’t afforded a higher education often develop simpler, “less correct” ways of speaking. This also happens with groups of people no matter their social class. Development of the American accent, anyone?

This happens globally in languages.

Should slang be taught alongside proper English? No. Is it wrong to use slang? No.

Here’s why:

Language is a basis of communication. We have to have a solid foundation that we teach across the boards, or else people can’t communicate effectively. Deviations on that foundation are natural and can be beautiful and even fun (accents, anyone?).

So, we shouldn’t toss slang into a third-graders dictionary, but we SHOULD learn it at some point. The more words, phrases, idioms, and languages you know, the more you can communicate and understand the world around you. Just take a look at teenagers versus parents. How often do kids say a slew of words that result in the brow-furrowing and confused-face of the adult? Probably every time they recite a text.

So, that covers slang, but what about text speak?

People can get hung up on abbreviated language (i dont no if it bothers u but its hard to read sumtimes). Are these words spelled incorrectly? Yes. Are they incomprehensible? Only to those unfamiliar with it.

Being a fan of the English language and all things proper, hoity-toity, and grammatically correct, I don’t tend to abbreviate text messages. In fact, my commas are often square in place. But if I’m in a hurry? “On my way” becomes “omw,” and “talk to you later” becomes “ttyl.”

Text speak is just another form of slang!

Instead of accompanying demographics or socioeconomics, it accompanies technology (which, granted, does fit into social class and wealth as well). It’s a leaner, more efficient form of communicating, which does have historical precedent. Ampersand, anyone? Post Script? Any abbreviation, initialism, acronym, and shorthand?

The point of language is to share and learn. People develop their own ways of speaking to each other (married couples sometimes have sickeningly adorable telepathy where a few words can mean volumes). This individualized level of communication is interesting and awesome.

Could you write a book in text speak or an off-market slang? Nope. Well, yes. But only if you intend to reach the small audience that understands well enough (and is patient enough) to read it.

So, is it OK to hate selfie and bromance as they worm their way into our lexicographically guarded tomes (dictionaries)? Sure, but you can’t stop it. Language evolves just like human intelligence, civilization, and technology.

Just be glad we’re among a species where language evolves quickly enough that we notice it changing. Take a deep breath. That’s the feeling of being alive and part of a civilization of evolutionary creatures. Congrats.

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One thought on “The Inv3nti0n of W0rd5 — Like “Selfie” and “Bromance”

  1. Pingback: Language Speaks — “Slang is OK” | words — and other things

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