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Friday, July 24, 2009

OUR CHANGING VERNACULAR


I'm told that English is the hardest language to learn, probably because of the idioms and slang we use. I don't know which is worse, "American-ese" or our counterparts in the UK. Nonetheless I find it interesting how our language changes over time. Back in the 1930's and 40's, people were "swell" and "gay" meant to be lighthearted. In the 1960's and 70's, everything was "Super," "Far out," and "Hip," but we don't use these words anymore, nor do we use words like "Hi-fi," "Stereo," "Ethyl," "Hi-Test," "keypunch," or "CRT."

In the last ten years alone I've noticed changes in our vernacular. The following is a list of words and expressions that are currently a natural part of our vocabulary, yet weren't used just ten years ago (the 1990's): Hydrate, Hybrid, Green, Blog, WiFi, Multitasking, same-sex, "creative class," chipotle, and pandemic (as an aside, I find it amusing this last word only applies to the mainstream vocabulary of the 21st century; I guess it wasn't applicable for the Black Plague of the 14th - 18th centuries). These words were certainly in the dictionary before, but they weren't a part of our speech patterns as they are today.

True, a lot of these words are driven by marketing and the media, but it is ultimately derived from our changing technology, diet, and moral values. In a way, a changing vernacular is indicative of our changing social priorities and attitudes. As a small example, how we communicate in the office today is substantially different than the 1950's, thanks in large part to being "politically correct." At the time, there was little sensitivity to racial or gender equality. Right or wrong, offices were masculine dominated and, as such, there was little concern for offending anyone in our language.

It also seems our youth are relying more and more on monosyllables words and are less inclined to engage in honest debate. When they argue, it is typically on the Internet and hiding behind the anonymity of a bogus user name whereby the discourse becomes vicious and sloppy. I interpret this as a "dumbing down" of America.

I seriously doubt that our forefathers from the 1700's would understand what we say today, and people from the 1800's would probably have trouble with our vocabulary as well.

Next, let's consider how our first names have changed over the years. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, the top five boys names are currently: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, and Daniel. All are fine old names. The top five girls names are: Emma, Isabella, Emily, Madison, and Ava. Again, some fine established names here as well. Ten years ago though, we were swamped with names like: Britney, Heather, and Lindsay, but these have fallen off the radar lately, probably because Hollywood is changing.

It seems it was not too long ago that we heard names like Edna, Esther, Alice, Ruth, Annabelle, Doris, Harriet, Helen, Beatrice, Maxine, Laverne, Mildred, Agnes, Herbie, Herman, Orv, and Milt, but you don't hear too many of these names among children today. We still have stalwart names like John, Joe, Bill, Bob, Susan, Katie, Linda, Anne, and Elizabeth, but even these are starting to dwindle in use. I guess this is why I was glad to hear "Emily" was making a comeback.

It's fun to hear America talking, but you have to listen carefully to hear our world change.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For a listing of Tim's Pet Peeves, click HERE.

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