Shifting Words

Teaching grammar and writing is a fascinating job for me. I get to track down word meanings and how they change, watch the language grow. English is a flexible language, and for all the exceptions to rules, crazy spelling and grammar twists, the fact that the language develops new words to cover new experiences is exciting.

CoughspellingTen years ago, we could not live without the phrase “floppy disk.” Today? It’s long gone. That’s how fast our language develops, uses, discards words.

For language, that’s healthy growth. Some other words that have changed meaning or are entirely new:

Doxing. An internet practice of outing sources or protected witnesses or hackers. Usually done by other hackers.

Bail-out: Used to mean taking water out of something, like a boat, to keep it afloat. Now it means pouring public money into a Wall Street company to keep it afloat. Notice that it used to mean taking out of and now it means putting into.

Like: Used to mean “to care for or about,” but now means “I saw what you posted on Facebook and don’t want to comment,” or even “I hate what is happening to you, but showing solidarity.”

Linked: Used to mean you were probably in trouble, as in “Your name has been linked to the embezzlers.” Now it shows you know a lot of people in businesses related to yours.

Favorite: Used to mean that something was special, unique, at the top of the good heap. Now it means, “I’ve seen your Tweet, and want you to know I’ve seen it.” Often not associated with being pleased at all.

Tag: Used to be a children’s game or a piece of paper affixed to an object to give more information. Now it means grabbing attention for items that might otherwise be ignored. If you’ve ever been tagged on Facebook, you know you have to look and sometimes wish you could have ignored it.

Follow: Used to mean to walk behind someone, sometimes a bit creepy. Stalkers followed you. Now used as a path to popularity: “I have 1,500 followers on Facebook.”

Break: Used to be something bad, a result of a clumsy move. Now, if you do it to the internet, you are an instant idol, for a nanosecond or more. “Your post broke the internet, dude!”

–Quinn McDonald loves watching the language change. But she is still a stubborn user of the Oxford comma.



12 thoughts on “Shifting Words

  1. Dr. Seuss before he was Dr. Seuss, when he was in college, wrote a book titled The tough coughs and ploughs the dough. It was interesting. The poster you cribbed into the blog reminded me of it.

  2. Ah, as an English teacher (read grammarian) you will find me none to quietly correcting the speech of the television personalities. I cringe at the lack of “proper” education of advertising professionals and their use of our language. Quinn you made me laugh. Even a kindred spirit must disagree about the Oxford comma: Bah! Humbug!

    • For your(and Pam’s) amusement, a response to a query with my internet provider. I was lost when the person hoped I was doing good, as opposed to evil I presume.

      Hello Wendy,

      I hope you’re doing good today and thank you for your email.

      I would like to first sincerely apologize for the delay of responding to your query.

      We have recently experienced an abrupt increase in number of emails received. We understand that this is not an acceptable excuse but rest assured that we are working through solutions so that we can attend and address each and every customer’s concern in a timely manner be it thru email or via phone.

      I understand very well that you were sent of this modem without notifying you and I understand that you don’t really need this as you currently one which is quite new. I’m sorry to hear if you feel sending you one may be a waste of our resource. This feedback rather is much appreciated and I have forwarded this for review by our Continuous Improvement Team for us to provide better assistance/service to our customers efficiently.

      Having looked at your account, The reason why this has been sent was, it is part of your package to ensure that our customers would have something handy once the new set of package gets effective as there are times we will be needing to make sure the modem is compatible with the service provided.

      Wendy, please accept my apology for the inconvenience that this may have caused you.

      Are there any other issues that hasn’t been resolved? Please let me know so I can personally attend to this matter the soonest time possible. I do want to make sure you are provided with all the necessary assistance just as what you deserve.

      Thank you kindly for your precious time and kind understanding, it is very much appreciated. Happy Holidays to you and your family Wendy!

      I might for give the delay, but the standard of English? Never!

    • As someone who worked at a newspaper (and used the AP style sheet), I gave up the Oxford comma. But I missed it, and when I left the newspaper, I took it back. Consider the sentence: My heroes are my parents, Superman and Wonderwoman. That means your parents are Superman and Wonderwoman, and you have two heroes. If you have four heroes, it reads: My heroes are my parents, Superman, and Wonderwoman. And that makes me an Oxford comma fan.

  3. I have a ‘thing’ about like on FB (although it’s nice when people like what I post on my blog). I find like difficult use to express solidarity when it’s something sad or bad, so hooked in to the old meaning am I. Nor can I abide, like, the inarticulate dingbats, like, that like use ‘like’ as every,like, second, word. Aaaarrrrrggggh! I feel like grasping them firmly by the throat and yelling “Just bloody say it!” but of course being essentially a non-violent person, I don’t.

    Love the (new to me) word doxing and wondered if it could be related to what a doxy does?

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