17 Mar 2011

Watch Your Language

Language is a funny thing. I mentioned in a recent blog post how the word chav has entered English in recent years. Who first said the word? Where did it come from?

Language constantly changes - words go in and out of fashion, new words appear, existing words change their meaning. If we get annoyed by this we're kind of missing the point - after all, if language never evolved, we'd still all be talking like cavemen. Or talking like whoever came before the cavemen. Cavemen were probably saying the same thing.

In the late-90s I think, we had the rise, literally, of the so-called Australian inflection - the thing where people raise the intonation in their voice at the end of a sentence, even when it's not a question. That was apparently due to the popularity of Australian and American TV dramas.

And remember the Chilean miners' crisis a few months ago? As well as thinking about what a truly horrific experience it must have been for the miners, I was also left confused as to why the newsreaders started saying Chill-ay-an halfway through, instead of Chill-ee-an. Who gave the order?

Remember Slob-o-dan Milosevic? Now he's Sl'bodan. And Benjamin Netanyahu? He's Bin-yam-een. Then Haiti's capital Port-au-Prance became Port-au-Prince - and back again. They never decided on that one. Self-promoting was then renamed social networking, around the time people stopped saying Hi and said Hey instead.

Margaret Thatcher made a speech as prime minister back in the 1980s when she said: "There is no such thing as society; there are individual men and women, and there are families." It's now twenty-odd years later, and the same philosophy has been rebranded as the big society. From no such thing, to big! Language is a funny thing.

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