Evolution or Devolution?

Modern English has been evolved over 400 years and while many words have come and gone, where would we be today without bandit, bedroom, eyeball, obscene and puking? These were all introduced by a 16th century poet and playwright (think Snoop Lion in a doublet) and in their day were as novel as sexting is today. Introducing new words that are colourful and meaningful is no easy task.

Language is fluid, but the best surfers appreciate that some waves can end in a wipeout. YOLO (you only live once) is one such word. It’s widespread and heavily criticized, mostly because it’s typically used in a 13-year-old girl’s Facebook status update to justify a face tattoo of Justin Bieber.

“YOLO is carpe diem for idiots” said Janne Vaissi, a Carleton University linguist and law student.

Don’t be surprised if YOLO ends up having a long lifespan. SNAFU (situation normal all fucked up), laser and radar pass as respectable words; few remember their acronymic origin.
Some of us find it hard to accept that old words will take on new meanings. The contested usage of the word random is a case in point.

“Students use random when they really mean unexpected or quirky rather than to describe phenomena that cannot be predetermined which is the actual original scientific meaning of random,” said Karl Landheer, a University of Toronto physics doctoral candidate.

Landheer appears to have lost the battle on this one. People are voting with their mouths. Even mainstream authorities such as the Oxford Dictionary have given into the vernacular and listed informal definitions of random as “odd, unusual or unexpected.”

So what will your contribution to the English canon be? We can’t all be Shakespeare but we might just be able to contribute a gift such as “omnishambles” (selected as the new UK word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary.)


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