Recently, a press release from the Plain English Foundation crossed my desk at work and immediately snagged my attention. It was titled “Fugitive emissions” tops the list of 2011’s worst words and highlighted such iniquities as Nicole Kidman’s “gestational carrier” and the obfuscation “negative good” in relation to the effects of teeth whitening.
Now, I would argue these are in fact phrases, rather than words, but it’s an interesting and entertaining read, so I recommend clicking through and reading the above article.
It’s also completely indicative of one of the most fascinating things about the English language: its capacity to evolve.
In the case of PR-spun euphemisms like “fugitive emissions” (ammonia gas leaks), “gestational carrier” (surrogate mother) and “negative good” (er..?) the benefit to society is debatable; but there are plenty of fabulous new words in common use that we embrace without blinking. I refer of course to words such as “google” (verb), “blog” (verb, noun) and “tweet” (verb, noun) . . . and the list goes on. And will continue to go on for eternity.
The thing that gets my goat, however, is the bastardization of words. Every time a new bastardization makes it into the Oxford dictionary a small part of me dies inside. My pet hates are “orientated” (instead of “oriented”), “obligated” (instead of “obliged”) and “learnings” (*shudder*). There’s this one industry term I hate as well — “connectorized”. What’s wrong with “connected”, I ask you?
You might be interested in an online resource/community called Wordnik, which is attempting to log all the words and different meanings of English words coined by whomever and wherever along the way. Wordnik believes that words mean what we want them to mean — that if people want to use “cute” to mean something other than its original meaning (lovable, but ugly), then good luck to them!
Of course, the definition of “cute” changed decades ago, so we don’t bat an eyelid. But does that mean we should embrace a change in meaning for all words, should enough people start using them? The word “wicked” comes to mind, which to modern youth means something other than “terribly evil”.
So we have bastardized words, words with changed meanings, and completely new words, all simmering in the cauldron that is the English language — which already has origins in multiple languages. (Interesting factoid: apparently Shakespeare coined a staggering number of new words; there’s even some speculation he coined the word “bubble” for Macbeth, being the first to bring it into common use.)
Now, I’m really interested to hear what others think on this. What’s your feeling about the shifting sands of the English language? Do you hate bastardizations as much as I do? Should I just get over it and roll with the punches? What are your favourite new words?