Change – the only constant
Change. It happens constantly, whether we like it or not. As we reach the middle of February, we are already, in some places, seeing signs of winter finally turning towards spring. The seasons change year after year – nothing can stop this change. At the same time, the way we work has changed for many of us, and will continue to do so in a way few of us would have visualized this time last year. Many of us are working from home, others are in workplaces that have physically changed beyond recognition.
Those of us who work with language, as writers and editors, are also faced with constantly changing vocabulary and grammar and punctuation rules. It can be difficult to keep up and to know what is acceptable in formal writing and what is not. Style guides change their recommendations – on certain topics – each time a new edition is published. As to the grammar rules we learned back in high school? Forget them! (Well, okay, not all of them…) My point is – grammar and vocabulary evolve, constantly.
PART 1 – Vocabulary
This past tumultuous year has arguably brought more new words and phrases into our lexicon, more rapidly than ever before. Consider:
We’re beginning to flatten the curve in this deadly second wave. The lockdown is working. Please remember social-distancing rules.
Yes, these words and expressions existed prior to 2020 but as part of very different scenarios. As recently as 2019, lockdowns would have made us think of prisons, or hostage situations; outside of a cohort of epidemiologists the only people talking about the second wave might possibly have been surfers? As for social distancing, I’m not sure that term was ever used before. Yet, see how readily we have absorbed this jargon.
Other ‘new’ vocabulary has arrived a tad more slowly – often as the result of advances in technology, global crises such as climate change, and trends in entertainment. In the event you still own a dictionary from the 1980s, good luck finding any of the following – now terms we use daily without a second thought:
GPS, internet, email, laptop, online, smartphone, uploading, downloading, avatar, carbon footprint, blog, podcast, webinar, millennial, etc.
Or, terms that we have used for years but now have different connotations, such as:
tablet (other than a pill to swallow, or an ancient stone with words carved on it),
hybrid (applied to cars, rather than plants),
surfing (the web, not the ocean),
the cloud (other than those in the sky),
streaming (in the entertainment sense), etc.
Anyone falling into a coma in 1980 and waking up today could be excused for thinking people were speaking a foreign language.
Change – it’s constant! Of course, those under 30 might read this post with some surprise; having grown up in a digital world, they take this ‘new’ vocabulary for granted. Generally, younger people adapt to change more readily; the person who insists on a folded paper roadmap, rather than using GPS, or prefers their landline to a smartphone, is likely – though not always – to be older. Their viewpoints and resistance to change are understandable, however, for most of us, we either adapt to change or we risk falling behind.
And what of grammar? Yes, grammar also evolves over time. Check back next month to see some of the ways in which our use of grammar has evolved – and how we need to absorb these changes in our writing.