Column: The evolution (or de-evolution) of langaugeWORTHINGTON — I used to listen closely to English teachers. My thinking was, if I am going to work for newspapers I had better know the rules of the language
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — I used to listen closely to English teachers. My thinking was, if I am going to work for newspapers I had better know the rules of the language. This came to mind lately as I have noticed, often, the language is changing. It is not the English we knew.
I remember an English teacher saying of course families my choose any name they want: mommy, mama, ma, mom. But if you are doing formal writing — if you are writing a paper for an English class, or if you are writing something that might be in print — you write mother, only/always. If you are speaking to an audience, you say mother.
Very often now a celebrity will be on television talking about “my mom,” Alex Trebek says mom: “We have a working mom today.” Diane Sawyer says mom: “For all the moms out there…” Candy Crowley tells CNN listeners that she’s a mom.
It’s a change. Next year Mother’s Day may be Mom’s Day.
Moms keep watch on kids. There’s another change. I remember the old rule, “Goats have kids, people have children.” My sister-in-law used to talk of the children Now its kids. You hear, “My kids, Our kids, The kids,” at every turn. Television and newspapers both talk of kids. Stores say kids in their ads — kids’ clothes, kids’ shoes. Politicians say they are concerned for kids.
Mom and the kids. That is American English in the 21st century.
Biology teachers, not English teachers, talked of viruses. Viruses spread, sometimes with awesome speed, from one person to another. News, gossip, rumors used to spread like wildfire, like lightning. Now news “goes viral.” Brian Williams talks of news going viral. Scott Pelley finds viral reports on YouTube. Viral is not the domain of biology teachers any longer.
Spreading like wildfire is great imagery — but it is so 20th century. Viral is 21st century.
For (probably) no urgent reason, early computer makers named images on computer screens “icons.” The image of a scissors was the icon for “cut.” People were famed, famous, legends, legendary, heroic, fabled. Films and novels were epic. Now everyone/everything is an icon. Iconic actors, the heroes of iconic films, live in iconic houses along iconic Hollywood streets. Elvis is a rock icon. Johnny Cash is a country icon.
I think we all were anguished when — March 2011 — Japan was jolted by one of the most powerful earthquakes of modern times. After the earthquake came the tsunami.
What’s a tsunami?
Tsunami is a word English speakers did not know. English speakers said tidal waves. At least one movie was named, “Tidal Wave.” Tidal Wave was a code name for a World War II military operation. Tsunami? Well — that’s what the American news media have insisted upon. Their first tsunami reports puzzled many American readers.
“Guys and Dolls,” the movie version, came with 1955. We all knew what that meant. Men and women. Young men and young women. I got the first clue this had changed when, lately, I was informed, “There’s a guy at the door. She’s selling candy.” I visited a room — kids were on the floor, some of them on their bellies, coloring big sheets of paper which would become a mural. The monitor said, “All right guys, we’ve got to start cleaning up.” Boys and girls together — guys — began putting crayons in boxes and rolling up their papers.
In 1955 you found campuses at colleges. Now factories and public restrooms have campuses.
I remember (of course) when things were wonderful or exciting or majestic or stunning or beautiful. Magnificent. These are among half-a-dozen words that seem to have tumbled out of the language. They are replaced by awesome. Christmas is awesome. So are new cars. Grand Canyon. Honey Crisp apples.
Languages change. No language is static. There are fairly constant pressures on American lives today. Everyone looks for the bottom line. You might hear someone in the crowd calling to you and challenging you:
“You’ve got a full plate. What can you bring to the table?”
You say, “I don’t have much on my plate — just a hot dog and potato salad — ”
The response to this: “You don’t get it.”
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.