Friday, April 5, 2013

E -- Evolution and Etymology

I believe in evolution. Now, I'm not going to argue about being descended from apes, but we do not
live in stasis. We and all of the things around us are in a constant state of change. That is a good thing. Otherwise we might still be wearing togas and speaking Hebrew.  We wouldn't have such delights in life as corn on the cob and seedless watermelon. We would still be cooking over open fires. Not only that, we would still be walking because no one would have thought to hop on a horse.

The English language is forever evolving. If it didn't we would be speaking in thees and thous, and wishing a pox upon one another when vexed. We would be going hither and anon. We would wander in the gloaming.

Words, like clothing, go in and out of style. Back in the early 20th century things went from being "bully" to being the bees knees or the cat's pajamas. By the 60s things were groovy and in the 80s they were totally tubular.

The changes in English are not limited to slang. When I was a child there were no cell phones, compact discs, or microwave ovens. We didn't have couch potatoes or parking vultures. Okay, we HAD them but we didn't call them that.

As the world has become more mobile our language has been regularly incorporating words and phrases from other languages to enhance our own. English is especially known for this. Did you know that the Spanish word for fiesta is fiesta? Okay, bad joke, but that is an example of a Spanish word that is now in regular use in English. Crayon comes from French. Much of our language is derived from German and Latin. The evidence is ubiquitous (Latin).

Just as we create new words, we also drop others. What are bees knees anyway? Lots of slang drops away just about as quickly as it came. Then there are those that were in common use at one time and have just died out, such as "snoutfair" (handsome) or "jirble" (to pour with an unsteady hand). For more of these words, click here.

For writers this evolution provides a vast additional language resource. Archaic language allows us to add a touch of authenticity to period pieces, or extrapolate these words and phrases into some fantasy world or future eon.

English is perhaps the richest language on the planet being over-burdened with different words that mean the same thing or shift with subtle meaning. We craft both poetry and prose by selecting the words that sound just right for the situation and how they work together, whether sibilant sounds or crackling cacophony.

This is also why English is reputed to be the most difficult language to learn. So as writers we seek to become masters of the words past, present, and future, and often in more than one language.

Happy wordsmithing!

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard of "parking vulture" before. And yes, in the respect of language, ours is a vibrantly evolving one!