Language evolves over time

Published 3:21 pm Friday, September 4, 2015


Recently I happened upon a fascinating item on the Internet about language and how it changes.

Words come, and words go so that two generations later they make no sense at all.

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Here is the opening of that thing I found: “About a month ago, I illuminated old expressions that have become obsolete because of the march of technology. These phrases included don’t touch that dial, carbon copy, you sound like a broken record and hung out to dry.”

Our vocabulary reflects cultural values, intentionally or otherwise. Let me share three lexical curiosities to illustrate my meaning.

• vape [rhymes with tape or rape] v.i. To create vapor in an artificial cigarette. Der. from n. vapor. Ecigs are plastic or glass tubes containing some nicotine. They are designed not to produce smelly smoke. Their side effects include dry skin, dry mouth, rash or burning sensation on the face, itchiness, caffeine sensitivity and minor nose bleed issues.” Authorities don’t necessarily know what’s inside of e-cigarettes, but the FDA tested a small sample just a few years ago and found a number of toxic chemicals including diethylene glycol, the same ingredient used in antifreeze.

• fantasy sports n. Term applied to non-games played by athletes who are not present. A fantasy sport (also known as rotisserie, roto, or owner simulation) is a game where participants act as owners to build a team that competes against other fantasy owners based on the statistics generated by the real individual players or teams of a professional sport. Probably the most common variant converts statistical performance into points that are compiled and totaled according to a roster selected by a manager that makes up a fantasy team. These point systems are typically simple enough to be manually calculated by a “league commissioner.”

• deck building n. Deck building tournaments often feature drafting rules: players build decks by opening sealed booster card packs, choosing one card and passing the rest to another player. Typically, players have in mind the kind of deck they’re attempting to build, and choose cards that support specific strategies.

Cards with demons and trolls and other creatures have power. Here is a comment about one such card: “Tarmogyf’s power is equal to the number of card types among cards in all graveyards and its toughness is equal to that number plus 1. What doesn’t grow, dies. And what dies grows the tarmogyf.”

Have you ever watched a group of young folks using their cellphones? Could you see the many games that were being played? Have you noticed how many movies and TV shows are all around us that depict a land of never- never? And it is amazing how quickly viewers buy into the action on the screen without noting that a film crew was there for every step of production — except for the cartoon entertainment that abounds, not at all limited to kids.

My schooling did not make me a sociologist or a psychologist, but I can’t help but wonder how people who get addicted to the things above fare when shocked by reality.

One fellow went broke gambling on fantasy football teams. One can only speculate about how many viewers of the TV series “Naked and Afraid” watch and believe that two adults take off their clothes and put themselves in life-threatening situations. We just can’t see the crew member with the AK-47 just off-screen, ready to kill any threat to the actors.

Rember Tarmogyf! Not long ago the fellow who opened a deck and saw that World of Warcraft card momentarily came to his senses. Instead of playing with it against other players, he listed it on eBay and earned $14,000.

(T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at .)