I love language. I love to read it, write it, study it, analyze it, and I love to watch it change and grow.
Recently there’s been a mini-explosion of nouns made into verbs. Things like peopling and adulting. As in, “I just can’t adult today,” instead of the stodgier, “I can’t be an adult today.” This turn of phrase takes the boring to be verb right out of the sentence and places the emphasis on what really is being done. One isn’t just being, one is actively doing. It makes it seem much more dynamic, and therefore possibly more difficult. Instead of merely being with people, peopling acknowledges that people, and having to interact with people, takes energy, must be done, isn’t just something one floats through. Even more so for adulting. Adulting is more than just a state of being. I’m not just “being an adult.” I’m actively doing things that make me an adult.
I enjoy the changing of the language; however, only when the addition or change adds to the usefulness or beauty of the language. For instance, I’m going to mourn the passing of the word whom. It served a real purpose. It gave you another clue about what was going on in the sentence. And in real life. Who acted upon whom. Givers and receivers clearly labeled. But I’m adjusting, slowly. I know, but honestly, I’m still feeling a little sad about the passing of thee and thou. I hate to lose words.
I’m even fine with the use of third person plural (they) as third person singular (he or she) when you don’t know whether you mean he or she. It was already the correct thing to say for a mixed group. (Anyone else have 9th grade English flashbacks just then?) I see the usefulness in this world of making our language less sexist. I just wish we’d come up with a whole new word (like vee, and ver maybe), so we’d still know if we were talking about a group or just one person. And I object to using they or their when a sex is obvious. “They took their children,” is fine. I don’t know how many people were involved, whether they were men, women, or a mix, but I could ask. However, please go ahead and say, “The mother took her child,” when you know the mother is female. Not “the mother took their child,” unless you sincerely are not sure the mother is female. Just because we need sexist-free language doesn’t mean that our world has suddenly become genderless.
While I love contractions and shortenings and abbreviations and acronyms and generally making things easier to say, I am not crazy about things like “R U J.” It was useful for a while, when texting was an odious chore on just a number keypad. Now, with smartphones that have virtual keyboards and predictive text, we can go back to writing like adults.
Many of our words were shamelessly stolen from other languages. Words like sushi, or hors d’oeuvre or feng shui name new things or ideas that enrich our language and our minds. Many, like adulting or scuba or laser, are made up or began as acronyms.
Because English is willing to absorb and create, it is a rich and colorful, flexible language—packed full of words and phrases with nearly the same meaning, but slightly different connotations. It allows us to be very descriptive and specific as well as very comprehensive. Our language is multicultural and inclusive.
The lesson is obvious. If we as a society could just learn from the history of our language changes, if we could learn to accept people the way we accept their words, we could enhance the progress of our society and culture.