Sometimes when I contemplate the world and my place in it, I feel like a golf cart toddling along the Autobahn with Ferraris and Aston Martins blowing past me. Maybe it’s just an aging thing, but the world seems to be changing so quickly in so many ways.
Technology rules of course. Smart this and Smart that. Do you remember when the telephone was a device we used to speak (actually talk) with someone miles away? Well, that’s my phone today. It’s a mobile of course, but it’s not a heart rate monitor, a GPS or an ECG reader. It is a telephone. And that suits me just fine.
I’m never in a hurry to embrace change, although I usually cry Uncle and accept the inevitable. I’ve always been the last member of my social circle to buy into the latest technology, the last to get a colour TV, the last to buy a cell phone, the last to own an iPad.
Convince me that this stuff really works and is here to stay and maybe I’ll dig out the bucks required to keep within shouting distance of the modern world.
All that gadgetry aside, few changes pique my angst more than what I witness as the English language mutates into some kind of stranger.
Of course, I understand that language is a living, evolving, dynamic entity. If it weren’t, we’d all be speaking like Chaucer. But the transformation of Middle English into my native tongue occurred long before I drew my first breath. So it’s almost like it never happened.
I’m comfortable with change that occurs incrementally – almost imperceptibly. The process of gradualism is a little like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar.
But the changes that get my knickers all tangled up are those words and phrases that appear abruptly and bully their way into the vernacular, leaving traditionalists like me wondering what people are talking about. This is not evolution, it’s revolution.
In a few short years, words that once packed a lot of shock value have become almost yawn. Take TV and movies. The first time I heard the word damn in a movie was in the 1950s. I was surprised, but even at my tender age, I welcomed that bit of Brit derring- do as a refreshing injection of realism in contrast to the sanitized dialogue of other war flicks.
Fast forward to today and there seem to be no holds barred. If you’ve ever watched Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, you’ll know that the F-bombs are a dime a dozen and just the tip of the expletive iceberg. It’s enough to make Tony Soprano blush. I have no problem with onscreen profanity for the sake of authenticity, but just to be edgy – I don’t know; that’s when it becomes inane and annoying. Try too hard and you get boring.
Ironically, just as what Grandma used to call four letter words are easing their way into common parlance, the language cops are coming down hard on words and expressions that once seemed perfectly innocuous. A few examples: Breastfeeding, expectant mother, manhole, sorority and fraternity are now anathema in some circles, ousted in favour of vocabulary blessed by the guardians of political correctness. While the champions of change have every right to advocate for a language makeover, I have an equal right to find some of this stuff downright silly.
As discomfiting as a lot of these linguistic mutations are for me, I concede that language transforms to mirror the world in which we live. But evolution trumps revolution, and that’s not what I’m seeing. Most bewildering is the sudden emergence into the mainstream of words that may have previously existed in some arcane, alternative dialect or were born of the digital age. And we’ve had a glut of them lately. It’s as if we’re creating a new language that’s a lot like English but not quite.
Consider this example – a fictional slice of wisdom from an advice columnist to a distressed reader.
ModernSpeak: If some woke Karens and Kens start gaslighting and trolling you with memes, don’t feed those trolls. Just ghost ‘em.
Translation: If some bigoted, self-entitled and privileged louts start trying to mess with your mind and get a rise out of you by posting viral internet images, don’t take the bait. Just ignore them.
If you didn’t need an interpreter to translate my Modern-Speak, congratulations. You are far more avant-garde than I am. And to return to my opening Autobahn analogy, you are a Ferrari while I remain forever a golf cart perpetually stuck in the linguistic slow lane.