Word evolution is evident throughout history, and the English language is an exciting one because it evolves all the time. In 1898 someone came up with the idea of putting tea into porous sacks and the “tea bag” was invented. By 1936, the word was being spelled “tea-bag”. In 1977, it was called the “teabag”. It went from two words, to hyphenated, to one. I came across this fact in the captivating book by Naomi Baron called “Always On: Language In An Online World” (2008).
We see similar practice with the evolving language of the web. I have always rebelled against the word “e-mail”, preferring to use the more (advanced) email. Likewise with online and offline. But strangely, I resist the one word homepage or insidepage. My proposals are peppered with the original use of the words “home page” and “inside pages” indicating that in this regard I’m back at the very beginning of spelling.
That got me thinking. What other words have become the norm thanks to the pervasiveness of digital?
Word Evolution In The 21st Century
The word on the duck lips of every Instagramer – famously voted the Oxford Dictionary word of the year in 2013!
Definition: [noun] a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.
The word was first used way back in 2002 on an Australian internet forum.
“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
-2002 ABC Online (forum posting) 13 Sept.
But the word ‘selfie’ really blew up from 2012 – 2013:
If my graphing skills were better, I’d be able to superimpose it on this:
Lol is an abbreviation of the phrase ‘laughing out loud’. It is used to indicate humour through text without the use of emojis. Unfortunately not everyone is so clear on the definition, some older folk tend to think it means ‘lots of love’, which can lead to some pretty awkward encounters.
Dictionary Definition: [noun] an abrupt high-pitched ringing sound. E.g “The ping of the oven timer.”
Online Definition: [verb] to IM a colleague, or send them a quick message. E.g “Can you ping the link over to me?”
Dictionary Definition: [noun] the highest point of a hill or mountain. E.g “She climbed back up the path towards the summit.”
Online Definition: [noun] a meeting of like minded individuals. E.g “I was at the Web Summit last weekend – it was wild!”
Dictionary Definition: [noun] a word or concept of great significance. E.g “Homes and jobs are the keywords in the campaign.”
Online Definition: [noun] The word or phrase used to optimise your search engine abilities. For example, “Facebook is too broad a keyword for this blog post.”
Dictionary Definition: [noun] an informal gathering, especially one organised by the members of a particular club or group. E.g “A church social.”
Online Definition: [noun] An abbreviation for ‘social media’ used by people who work in it, E.g ” I just need to spend some time on getting my social updated before lunch.”
Word evolution is kind of exciting. We now live in a world that uses the Danish word for poop, Bae, as a term of endearment.
What other words can you come up with that are evolving or new? I’d really like to add to this, and not end on Bae.
English usage has been an evolving, democratic process, and the strictures of writers like Fowler are not fixed in cement for all time. I think it is prudent to be aware of the concept of usage and to dip into the standard reprinted works of Fowler and others, but to be aware too that there is no such institution as an English Academy on the same puritanical lines as l’Academie francaise or its Italian counterpart. One reason that English has spread internationally so speedily has been its flexibility of use and vocabulary expansion. For a pragmatic discussion, with several helpful examples, of hyphen use/usage, see these comments by an academic from Sussex University:
Good comment Garreth. I for one am excited by how English moves with the times. I rejoice in the creativity shown by us humans as we meld the language of Shakespeare to our contemporary needs as a computer mediated language. Here’s to us!
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