The words Dame, Damsel and Fishwife were long ago eradicated from the English language. The term “Art of Manliness” which was quite in vogue, was long ago relinquished, along with other words and phrases which referred to a way of life, values and beliefs which no longer applied.
In the late 90’s we crossed a bridge, where technology and the internet forever changed our lives, and impacted our means and modes of communication, beyond return. Along the way we lost words, phrases and their meanings, and we gained new terms which gave shape and a means to communicate and express ourselves in ways which were more in line with our technologically driven lives.
Words such as “email”, “Internet”, “Facebook”, “Google”, “Youtube”, “emojis”, “Twitter” and “apps”, were not part of our vocabulary until not so long ago. The name Google has even become a verb.
The internet has pushed the boundaries of language. Barely one decade ago, many were concerned that social platforms were dumbing down language while fostering a generation of screen-obsessed illiterates. On the other end of the spectrum, you would find people, such as Linguist David Crystal, who described texting as “one of the most innovative linguistic phenomena of modern times.”
The media’s concern over the demise of language, due to the internet, has died down since the early 2000s. The internet has given us permission to break the rules. We’ve repurposed design principles and components, embraced lowercase text, punctuation is an optional when texting and we use emojis to convey tones, gestures and moods.
There is a theory which claims that you can’t feel or think things for which you have no words. With this in mind, is it possible we have lost something along the way, something which amounts to more than words or outdated phrases? Conversely, what have we gained?
Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is more accurate to say that not only language, but our use of language is evolving, so it can more accurately reflect and express the world we live in.
Some say the digital world has had an homogenizing effect on language. The meaning of phrases and words have been altered, creating what George Orwell might have referred to as “Newspeak,” a term which referred to idea that language can corrupt thought and that the powers that be use language to restrict, rather than broaden, ideas.
Take for example the term “politically correct,” which has taken on new dimensions as of late. The term “politically correct” has had a multitude of definitions, over time. It was used to describe what was considered to be politically wise, and was often used as a vehicle for ironic self-mockery. This phrase hasn’t just changed meaning, it has changed targets, especially when related to issues of multiculturalism and diversity. In her article ‘Politically Correct’: The Phrase Has Gone From Wisdom To Weapon, Kate Chow explains how and why.
In a contentious piece for the Hollywood Reporter Bill Maher stated Americans “have been choking on political correctness and overly careful politicians for the last generation or two and are sick of it.”
The internet may have set to pasture the rules of grammar and punctuation for our texting purposes, however never before has it been so important to observe the way we use words. Never before have so many people, globally, been alert, watching and listening. Never before have so many had an outlet to speak up.
In the virtual landscape, which has become our preferred way to communicate and gather data, we need to observe the way we use words and how words are being used on us. It is words and ideas that change the world. Words have power.