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The Fluidity of Language as a Marker of Changing Times

Language evolves all the time, with thousands (yes, thousands!) of new words, senses and subentries added to dictionaries every year. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, is updated on a quarterly basis, and in the last ten years, we’ve seen such new words as

“ring tone” (2010)

“auto-correct” (2011)

“supervillain” (2012)

“transphobic” (2013)

“selfie” (2014)

“crowdfunding” (2015)

“glamping” (2016)

“420” (2017)

“binge-watch” (2018)

“fake news” (2019)


and “LOL” (2020).

Despite the remarkable frequency with which new words seem to spring up, the vast majority of us scarcely notice the shift. Many of these words are so ubiquitous that we forget that they were born within a specific context. If we take the time to read, for example, the books we read as teenagers, or inversely, any comment thread online, it can be jarring to realize how much the way we express ourselves has changed. Take, for example, the explosion of acronyms in our day-to-day interactions, largely a by-product of technology and our increased preference for texting over talking on the phone.

It’s easy to look at these shifts and think of them as somehow inferior to the language we were taught by our parents and teachers to speak, read and write. To do so, however, would be to diminish what is so great about language and, more broadly, humanity. Language evolves because we evolve. As frustrating as it may be for some of us fuddy-duddies to learn all the acronyms designed (largely) by teenagers to expedite SMS and online communications, they do come in handy and, ICYMI, learning new things keeps our minds active and staves off things like boredom and dementia.

At its most fundamental level, language has always been a means for people to understand one another. The rate at which our world changes absolutely requires languages to evolve, if not for the sake of change, then perhaps simply for the sake of expediency.

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