Degradation (and Redemption?) of a Language

Recently, words like “twerking,” “squee,” and “girl crush” were added to the English dictionary. Lots of people groaned about this, and many said it’s just more crap attributing to the degradation of the English language. While I think it’s sorta funny, I don’t think new words are what are destroying much. Hell, Shakespeare made up words in his time, and I’m sure plenty of people groaned about them while adjusting their codpieces (they had those back then, right?). There’s always going to be new words, so we shouldn’t get our collective panties all balled up over it.

However, the true culprit we should be worried about is stuff like this…

 [ nòn plúst ]
  1. confused: surprised, confused, and uncertain what to do or say
  2. cool and collected: calm and unperturbed

That’s from Bing’s dictionary. Yes, that Bing. The one owned by Microsoft. We shouldn’t be worried about new words entering our lexicon, we should be worried about official reference sources giving out two completely opposite definitions for a word, when only one of them is correct. You could say that when I saw that definition on Bing, I was rather nonplussed (badum-tsh).

I make up words all the time while writing. It’s par for the course when you make up stuff, and yeah, I like to use words slightly out of their intended definition sometimes, liberally tossing around “totally” and “literally” with little regard for their static definitions. However, I’m a product of the 1980s America, where that surfer lingo was totally rad and everyone was wearing neon colors. I can at least rest easy knowing that I have not tried to give words new definitions that are the complete opposite of their original.

I love words with double-meanings, though, like “thaumaturgy,” and how it meant something akin to magic and miracles, but was also used to describe the process by which machines worked in the 16th century, because most people didn’t understand how shit worked back then, so obviously it’s gotta be magic! Double-meanings are fun, but it’s incredibly hard to carry on conversations with people when they insist on using a word without its proper definition, or worse, one they made up themselves. Now, I understand that words will sometimes take on more definitions as time goes by, like thaumaturgy taking on the meaning it gained for the 16th century layman, but…I don’t think I can abide by or support that same principle when people try to append a definition opposite of what a word already means, and has meant for a long time.

That nonplussed definition there? That’s frightening, because people will use Bing’s definition as a reference, and then the continue to use the word with a wholly interchangeable meaning of opposites. I was gonna make a joke about how no one uses Bing so we had nothing to worry about, but the same problem is also present on Google if you ask for the “nonplussed definition.” Everyone uses Google!

It’s this stuff that attributes to the degradation of the English language! When we give words new meanings that just make no sense! To really think of the absurdity and reach the levels of incredulity I’m at, try taking a word with a very succinct meaning and using it in conversations to mean its literal opposite. Like “happy” meaning “sad,” or “big” meaning “small.”

It’s pretty much how I’ve felt about the whole thing.

It’ll be anarchy in the streets! It’s the end of the world! Step away from the gasoline and nobody gets hurt!

I’m starting to wonder if our no-attention-span, instant-gratification society has allowed people to think they can so easily just make up new definitions for things, and immediately expect them to catch on, despite the thousand year pedigree some definitions have. These days people get pejoratively referred to as “Grammar Nazis” and the like if you ever dare correct someone’s incorrect use of spelling or punctuation. I don’t really care too much about those so long as a person’s input in a discussion is still discernible (or they aren’t typing in some sort of professional capacity), because we’re a greatly connected world where people of all nations and cultures can communicate, and sometimes communication is troublesome across different languages.

However, I will always, and forever, correct someone when they use a word wrong. Does it make me annoying? Maybe, but I can’t just kick back and watch people butcher the language I’m trying to make a living off of. We need more people to go full Inigo Montoya on those who get words wrong (sans the “prepare to die” stuff).

Why should I relent because it makes me annoying? Stop using words wrong and I won’t have to. The world will be better for it.

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