I am not language police, nor do I play a word cop on TV (mental note: pitch a pilot for a show about word cops). That said, I admit that I’ve been known to cringe over bad spelling or blatant misuse of some words in writing. I have a few pet peeves: chiefly, shortening of words when the full word isn’t even that long, and excessive use of hyperbole in non-dramatic situations. (I know, that’s totes ridic, but it’s THE absolute worst.) I’m not, however, going to insist that everyone use the Queen’s English, sentences and clauses stripped of any sense of modern exuberance. I’d like to continue being invited to friends’ parties and important life events.
Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure said, “Time changes all things: there is no reason why language should escape this universal law.” Over the decades, a lot of new terms have become part of our daily lexicon while some have faded into obscurity. The most recent additions to the Oxford Dictionary Online include such terms as “squee,” “srsly” and “jorts.” While the world of lexicography isn’t exactly a hotbed of drama and intrigue, it’s still seen its share of controversy. When Webster’s New International Dictionary, Third Edition was published in 1961, its editor Philip Gove didn’t make too many friends over it. Gove not only expanded previous definitions, but he also introduced over 100,000 new entries to the dictionary, incorporating slang and providing context for word use. While some changes he made to the categorization and structure of the dictionary were drastic, he was mostly in the Saussure school of thought when he said, “The basic responsibility of a dictionary is to record language, not set its style.” Unfortunately, while he tried to build a reference volume that would reflect the cultural shifts in the usage of the English language, Gove was also pilloried for supposedly trying to destroy “every surviving influence that makes for the upholding of standards.”
Gove’s attempt at practical and objective documentation aside, the history of many modern words and their common use is pretty fascinating, regardless of how you might feel about them. Presented here for your edutainment (yes, that’s also an accepted term) is a small smattering of words, some surrounded in controversy, some just plain interesting. Let’s start with one of the most reviled culprits, “literally.”
1. in a literal manner or sense; exactly.
2. (informal) used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.