New words and what they mean for modern language
History is littered with many things, not least words that have been discarded and forgotten because new ones took their place. What do these changes in language mean and why do they occur? Are they simply a means for young people to “troll” their peers or should you actually be “fomo” about not understanding what’s going on?
o long have the previous generation bemoaned the mauling of language by their replacements that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that cavemen had shouted at their kids for using “Uggg” rather than “Ug”.
There are a great number of reasons that language changes. Some of the longer forms of change involve one culture taking over another culture. In cases where the invading force are considered of higher status than the local males, the females often inter-marry and begin to use elements of their invader husbands. A far more common change is a simple evolution from one generation to the next. Pig Latin, pidgin languages and creole are all examples of where language had to change rapidly from one generation to another. For a range of reasons it often becomes important to be able to communicate with others who may not share your mother tongue.
History Vs Today
Fast forward to today and thanks to sites like the “Global language monitor” we can see that, on average, 14.7 new words are created every day in the English language. Most of these may fail to become widely adopted, of course, but some will bed in. Shakespeare himself was said to have created as many as 17o0 words alone, many of which have stuck.
It is perhaps a function of modern times, and particularly thanks to the internet, that those new words seem to make such a splash. The Oxford English Dictionary always gets the headlines when they release the list of new words that make it into new editions. Cue news anchor rushing up and down high streets asking bewildered people what “yeet” means. It’s here, perhaps, that we start to get to the real heart of the matter. “Yeet” (a word that takes on a variety of meanings, it can mean “no,” “yes” or can even be a general way to express excitement) has appeared thanks to a Vine (a short video format hosting service) video of someone throwing a CD away in 2014.
Will they stay or should they go?
There are plenty of examples of words like this, but what’s really interesting is what happens after they enter common parlance. Tracking “yeet” from it’s first mentions on the internet to today, it’s clear to see that there was plenty of confusion. Even among the “early adopters” clarification was needed as to how to use the word. It would be tempting to simply imagine that these new words, that come from sources like memes, will fade as quickly as they came. However, we can also speculate if people said the same thing about the words “lapse”, “obscene” and “bubble” when a certain W.Shakespeare invented them on the spot for his writings.
I’ve blogged before about how new words are a fact of life. All languages, and especially ones as widely spoken as English, need to accept the influx of new blood to the lexicon. So often these words are the younger generation trying to find a way to express themselves and find a voice. By generating words that speak on issues that are important to them, like standing out in a digital world, lets us see intergenerational changes through language. Whether those same words stay and become fixed into the language or fade away and die remains impossible to predict. My interest as a writer in words that come along, just like “yeet”, is if I can leverage them to talk to an audience in a more effective way. I need to know what’s out there so I can leverage them for my customers’ brands. I won’t lie, the task of keeping up to date with the language of today’s youth makes me feel pretty old. But in the end, we must accept that language changes over time and that new words are a sign of a healthy, well used, language. If you need to leverage language for your audience, please do get in touch.