Monday, March 15, 2010

For Lack of a Better Word

I recently heard a friend say that language evolves and adapts to fit society, implying that it is not a static entity.  I suppose that there is some truth to this, despite the desires of linguistic purists.  I find the polymorphism of English intriguing, but often, I am dismayed that certain words appear to aggrandize their time in the limelight to the total exclusion of their peers.  Let me provide a few examples.

Relevant - This word appeared to gain significant momentum in the 1970's, when many people were emerging from the hippie haze into a time of increased accountability.  People suddenly began referring to anything they wished to advocate as "relevant".  The word appeared to connote a sense of validation, as in, "What we discussed in the staff meeting today was not a waste of was relevant."  I don't think anyone was sure what relevant meant until sometime around 1992, when it became irrelevant.

Awesome - People have forgotten this, but prior to the 1980's, this word was used almost exclusively with the word "spectacle".  A typical sentence of that period might sound something like this: "We saw Lake Mead, and it was an awesome spectacle!"  The word was always used as a proper modifier, never left to fend for itself at the end of a sentence as it often is today: "We saw Avatar, and it was awesome."  This is perhaps the most overused word in the English language.

Diaspora - Although this word in its strictest sense refers to the movement of human populations, it was for a brief period in the late 1990's and early 2000's used to refer to almost any kind of scattering of items, be they people or M&M's.  Thankfully, usage of this word appears to be on the decline.

Vet - This interesting word, having come out of the blue only a few years ago, once was generally used to refer to a veterinarian, but its secondary definition, to review something in detail for approval, now appears to have emerged from the shadows to mask the traditional meaning.  Nevertheless, when I hear that someone has "vetted" something, I cannot help but think that spaying or neutering, perhaps both, are involved.

Disingenuous - Come on, people...let's just say "insincere".  Why do we insist on using these words that in and of themselves appear to conjure up a double negative?  This word is a favorite of in-depth cable TV news analysis programming, and I often hear it used by people as their longest word.  Maybe that is its true calling.

This whole idea of wearing out certain words has indeed given me pause for thought.  In the future, I will be careful to vet everything I say, so that I do not appear disingenuous.  After all, what I am communicating is relevant and is not to be lost in the diaspora of the blogosphere, which is, after all, awesome.